Nick is about to unmask Virginia Valentine’s murderer.“Virginia Valentine had just taken her niece under her wing,” said Nick to the guests and staff assembled in the spa dining room.“Before she was killed she told Vicky she was going to put her in her will.”Vicky Valentine dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, shaking her head. Spa manager Minke Ohmdant gestured to masseuse Nils Erikkson to ensure the door was closed and there could be no sudden break. Baxter stood sentinel beside him.“But the key is that she had not yet put her in her will,” said Nick. “So she had nothing to gain by killing her aunt.”“Golly, that’s it,” burst out La Contessa. “The person she had promised to help and who stood to lose everything when the will changed was Nils Erikkson.”“And he had the means to kill someone with a seaweed wrap,” said Detective Inspector Cleaver. “Stop that man!”Erikkson opened the door to run. Baxter growled and lunged, attaching himself to the fleeing masseuse’s calf. Erikkson yelled and kicked the dog free, crashing Baxter into the door with a yelp of pain. Nick landed a flying roundhouse punch to the tall Swede’s jaw that laid him out for the count.“Baxter! Darling dog, are you hurt?” cried La Contessa, scooping up the dazed beagle. “You are so brave.”“He seems OK,” said Nick, rubbing his red knuckles. “Now we have solved this, do you think we could go home?”“Absolutely darling,” said La Contessa, kissing him on the cheek. “Time for a steak and a martini. And don’t forget, we still have a murder to solve.”
The suspects in Virginia Valentine’s murder have been called into the dining room.“Thank you all for coming,” said La Contessa to the assembled guests. “It is my sad duty to inform you that Virginia Valentine’s death was not the tragic accident you have been led to believe.”There was an audible gasp in the room and Virginia Valentine’s niece Vicky cried out, her tin foil hat tumbling onto the table. “Let’s cut the theatrics,” said movie star Aaron Flynn.“On the contrary,” said Nick. “I think we need to increase them. We need a guard on that door.”Spa manager Minke Ohmdant gestured for masseuse Nils Erikkson to stand in front of the double doors. Nick nodded his head and Baxter took position next to him. “Every one of you has a motive for wanting to kill poor Virginia Valentine,” continued Nick. “But only one of you did.”“I will not have you accuse my guests of such things,” started Minke before Nick cut her off with a decisive wave of his hand.“Let’s start with you,” said Nick. “I don’t think you wanted her dead but you did want to cover up her murder because it was bad for business.”“You did not have a motive like Aaron Flynn,” he said, pointing to the actor. “He needed the money Virginia could offer but the only people he has killed are on screen.”Vicky Valentine stifled a sob.“No,” said Nick. “The killer is right here.”
“Thank goodness you are here,” said La Contessa, warmly embracing the portly policeman in the spa reception before whispering, sotto voce. “There is so much to tell you about poor Virginia Valentine’s untimely death.”“It seems a shocking thing to murder someone by crushing them slowly to death with a seaweed wrap,” said Detective Inspector Cleaver, patting an excited Baxter’s head. “Never heard of that before.”“Did you remember to book in under an assumed name?” asked Nick quietly, as they walked through the spa. “I’m keen for you to be able to make inquiries incognito.”“Naturally,” nodded Detective Inspector Cleaver. “Mum’s the word.”“Just one moment,” called spa manager Minke Ohmdant, rushing to catch up. “Detective Inspector Smith, you forgot your key.”Nick looked at his old friend with a raised eyebrow and was met with a helpless shrug.“And knowing that you are new to our spa I have taken the liberty of inspecting your bags,” continued Minke Ohmdant, giving Nick a hard stare. “And confiscating the alcohol you may have accidentally packed.”“Thorough as ever Mein Kommandant,” sighed Nick dejectedly. “I look forward to seeing you at dinner. Alfalfa sprouts again?”“I say it’s devilishly expensive for some salad and no wine,” said Detective Inspector Cleaver. “We need to crack on so that I don’t have to spend too long here.”“Quite right, it’s time we plotted our escape from Alfalfa-traz,” said Nick. “And now the cat’s out of the bag about a policeman being here we need to call the suspects together as soon as possible.”
“I can feel my skin detoxifying and revitalising,” sighed La Contessa as she settled into the hot mud bath. “Can’t you darling?”“Not really,” said Nick uncomfortably. “Now I know what a tea bag feels like. Does this bath have air jets as well?”“Oh sorry,” said La Contessa. “It’s this high fibre diet. I notice it has had the same effect on Baxter.”The intrepid beagle was sitting by the edge of the sunken stone bath and gave a heavy sigh.“I think we need to do something about this,” said Nick, standing up in a spray of mud. “Come along Baxter.”“Oh dear,” said La Contessa as she watched the duo head to the shower. “Now we may never get to the bottom of this murder.”An hour later, when a refreshed La Contessa returned to the room, she was surprised to find Nick and Baxter sitting attentively by the door.“What’s going on?” she asked suspiciously. “I know that look in both your eyes.”Nick was saved by a knock at the door. He sprang to answer and returned with a giant brown paper bag. The air filled with the delicious aroma of cooked steak, fries and onion rings.“Yowf,” said Baxter. “I agree,” said Nick, pulling out a rack of ribs for the salivating beagle.“I’m not sure that’s in the spirit … ” began La Contessa before her sentence was cut off by a sharp knock at the door.“Nein, this is not good,” fired spa manager Minke Ohmdant scooping away the food. “For you, ze cooler.”
“No Detective Inspector Cleaver I don’t know where Nick is,” said La Contessa into the phone. “I last saw him whistling the theme tune from The Great Escape and marching across the golf course with Baxter. There were two assistants in an electric buggy pursuing them.”At that moment the door to their room crashed open and Nick and Baxter walked in with two very angry, red faced spa staff following behind them.“Ah, is that the Detective Inspector?” said Nick brightly, closing the door in the faces of the two staff members with his heel. “I would love to talk to him.”La Contessa handed over the phone and for the next 10 minutes Nick outlined his suspicions around the death of heiress Virginia Valentine. “No, I know the local boys in blue said it was an accident,” he said into the phone. “But being crushed by a rapidly drying seaweed wrap does not happen by chance. I think you need to get here as soon as you can. Possibly book in under an assumed name.”Nick was about to hang up when he suddenly remembered to ask for one more thing. “Can you bring the ingredients for a martini my friend? This detox is killing me.”“So you think we are close to unmasking the killer?” said La Contessa when he finished the call. “Because quite frankly I haven’t got a clue.”“There are several people with motives but before we start pointing any fingers I think we need to have another chat with one of them,” said Nick. “Time to visit Mein Kommandant.”
“What was that?” said La Contessa, sitting bolt upright in bed. Baxter growled from the bed beside theirs. “There it is again.”There was a loud click and the door banged open. A pair of bolt cutters appeared and cut through the security chain as Baxter barked and leapt off the bed.“Good dog!” shouted La Contessa, grabbing the bedside lamp as a makeshift club. “Go get him!”A hooded black clad figure burst into the room swinging a golf club. A framed picture smashed and then Baxter’s jaws clamped with a satisfying crunch onto the intruder’s left leg. La Contessa swept from the bed and brought the lamp crashing onto the balaclava clad head. There was a gasp of pain and the assailant dropped the club and fled, Baxter yelping at his heels.“Hmm, I say what was that?” said Nick drowsily, pulling out an ear plug. “Did you say something?”“We have been attacked,” breathed La Contessa excitedly. “Baxter and I fought him, or her, off.”“Good dog Baxter,” said Nick as the beagle padded back into the room, a torn trouser leg proudly clutched between his teeth. “Mandibles of death. What a dog.”La Contessa coughed discreetly.“And you too my Firenze fireball, terribly brave of you both,” said Nick. “These ear plugs I put in because of Baxter’s snoring are excellent. I didn’t hear a thing.”“Things do seem to be hotting up,” said La Contessa. “What do you think it means?”“Clearly we are getting close to the truth of Virginia Valentine’s murder,” said Nick. “And the killer doesn’t like it.”
“Ouch,” gasped Nick as another blow sent burning needles of pain through his torso. “Stop and I’ll talk.”“No need for you to talk, Mr Moore,” said masseuse and yoga teacher Nils Erikkson, jabbing his elbow into another pressure point. “Just breathing will be enough.”The deep tissue massage La Contessa had recommended was not proving to be quite the relaxing experience Nick had hoped for.“This may hurt a little,” warned Nils before pushing into a knot of muscle that caused him to yelp in pain. “You, not me, naturally.”“Tell me,” gasped Nick, his head jammed through a hole on the massage couch. “Did you know Virginia Valentine very well?”“Virginia was a regular here,” said Nils, expertly kneading Nick’s spine. “She was a very lovely and kind lady.”“Well I know she donated a lot of money to the arts and other good causes,” said Nick, before yelping as pain shot down his arm. “Why do you say kind?”“She offered to pay for me to visit my mother when she was sick in Sweden,” said Nils, placing hot towels on Nick’s back. “And wanted to help me set up my own spa.”“How was that darling?” asked La Contessa, walking into the room and climbing onto the massage couch next to Nick. “Agony,” said Nick. “I can’t believe you do this regularly.”“Don’t be silly,” said La Contessa as Nils walked out to get fresh towels. “I don’t have the deep tissue massage, I have the gentle aromatherapy relaxation one. Now tell me what you found out.”
“I would not get the COVID vaccine,” Vicky Valentine said vehemently. “They put a microchip inside your body.”“B,b,b,b,bull …” stuttered Nick, his face blue and teeth still chattering from his spell inside the icy cryogenic chamber. “… that’s completely n,n,n,nuts.”“What did he say?” Vicky Valentine asked La Contessa. “I cannot understand a word he says through those chattering teeth.”“He wants more nuts with his tofu,” smiled La Contessa. “Tell me, did you come here often with your aunt?”“No, this was the first time, although she loved it here,” said Vicky. “We got a lot closer in recent months and she wanted me to see it.”“She must have been very proud of you,” said La Contessa. “Particularly your following on social media.”“It’s the only place to get the truth,” said Vicky, warming to her theme. “You know that President Bolsonaro of Brazil said the COVID vaccine turns you into an alligator.”“I’m surprised to see you here without a tin foil hat,” managed Nick through clenched teeth. “The new satellites can read your thoughts.”“Really?” said Vicky, reaching down and tipping Baxter’s water from the tin foil container and promptly putting it on her head. “I warned my aunt about them.”“Did you warn your aunt about anything else?” asked La Contessa.“Yes, she was too close to the masseuse Nils Erikkson in my opinion,” said Vicky. “She was so grateful for my advice she told me she was going to change her will in my favour.”
“So they had three tunnels,” Nick explained as Baxter listened intently. “They were called Tom, Dick and Harry.”“Darling I don’t think explaining the plot of The Great Escape to the dog is going to get you out of here,” said La Contessa.“It’s worth a shot,” said Nick. “He may not be missing martinis as badly as me but I know he is also craving a big juicy steak.”Baxter’s tail thumped on the bedspread. There was a pop from inside the wardrobe and Nick jumped up to check on a plastic drum he had retrieved from the spa kitchens. La Contessa looked at him quizzically.“I have filled it with fruit and a packet of yeast,” explained Nick. “In 48 hours it will be pure prohibition busting moonshine.”There was a familiar sharp rattle on the door and spa manager Minke Ohmdant burst in with her two white-clad lieutenants. “Room search!” she cried, her eyes lighting up at the sight of the drum. “Herr Nick, I can see that we have more work to do to help you achieve your goals.”“Mein Kommandant, my goal is to get a drink,” said Nick. “Are you going to install a bar?”“We have a cryogenic facility here,” said Minke Ohmdant. “The cold brings down our customers’ temperature and gives them time to think.”“Let me guess,” said Nick. “It was a favourite of Virginia Valentine’s until her untimely demise.”“Just so,” nodded Minke Ohmdant, handing him a baseball mitt and ball. “For you, ze cooler.”
‘‘And downward dog,” said Swedish instructor Nils Erikkson from the front of the class. Baxter effortlessly moved into “extended puppy pose” before abandoning all pretence and curled up on his mat.“I think Baxter has the right idea,” said a red-faced Nick, his joints popping with exertion. “This is torture.”“Nonsense darling,” said La Contessa, serenely moving into cobra pose. “You are doing magnificently. Soon you will be as flexible as Aaron Flynn over there.”The Hollywood heart-throb, muscles rippling, flexibly changed pose, his white teeth flashing a smile.“At last, one I can do,” Nick said, as Nils Erikkson demonstrated the final “corpse pose” and lay down flat.“La Contessa, you had magnificent form today,” said Aaron Flynn, walking over while towelling his bulging biceps. She beamed at him coquettishly. “And this must be your husband.”“Forgive me if I don’t get up,” said Nick, holding up a hand from his prone position. “I may have broken some crucial body parts, but it is hard to tell because they all hurt.”“It gets easier over time,” Flynn said, with his trademark grin. He winked at La Contessa. “Like most things.”Baxter growled at the film star as La Contessa blushed. “Yesterday, you told me you were here for filming,” she said. “But I don’t see any film crew.”“No, the bean-counters are making things difficult,” said Flynn, a cloud crossing his features. “I need to find some cash pretty quickly.”“That,” Nick murmured to La Contessa when he eventually got up. “Is what we detectives call motive.”
Look around this room,” said Nick as they sat in the sumptuous Shah Kra dining room. “Two members of staff for every guest.”“Natural beauty is not cheap,” said La Contessa. “That’s why it costs so much money, darling.” “Well, it’s certainly not the food,” said Nick, pushing the assembled pulses and lentils around his plate. Baxter placed a paw on his leg and looked up at him beseechingly. “I cannot believe we are paying full price for the dog to refuse to eat tofu.”“Nicholas Moore, I am not going to have you complain for the next three weeks,” said La Contessa sternly. “Now, what are you talking about?”“Virginia Valentine was an heiress to billions,” said Nick. “If they have staff assigned to Baxter there is no way they would leave an elderly woman like that alone.”“She was here with her niece according to the staff,” said La Contessa, pointing to a waif thin young woman dabbing at her eyes at the next table. “I might go and console her.”She bounded across the dining room and sat opposite the young girl who looked up in startled surprise as La Contessa introduced herself.“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said to the girl, who said her name was Vicky. “Did your aunt have any enemies?”“Why no, everyone loved her,” said Vicky Valentine in surprise. “What are you implying?”“Nothing, it just seems strange she was left on her own in the sauna,” said La Contessa. “Where were you?”“I had a migraine,” she said, getting to her feet to walk out. “And I don’t like the tone of your questions.”
WHAT on earth was that?” said La Contessa, hot on the heels of Nick and Baxter as they raced out of the room. “It came from the Swedish sauna.”As they reached the pine-clad room, a young woman staff member staggered out, pointing into the sauna. Baxter was first through the door closely followed by Nick.“Don’t come in,” he commanded, before re-emerging, his face grim. “I’m afraid there is nothing we can do for her.”“I am ze manager here,” demanded a stocky, middle-aged German woman in a white uniform. “What has happened?”“I’m afraid one of your guests has passed away in the dry sauna,” said Nick. “It looks to me as though she was put in a seaweed wrap with bandages.”“That is not normally fatal,” said the manager. “You are the new guest, Nick Moore the detective?”“Correct,” said Nick. “And you are?”“Minke Ohmdant, the manager,” she said. “Before coming here I ran our sister spa in the Bavarian Alps.”“Very good Mein Kommandant,” said Nick. “I think you will find a seaweed full body wrap is fatal if allowed to dry out completely. I am afraid poor Virginia Valentine was crushed to death as surely as if a python had wrapped its coils around her.”“Oh darling, that’s terrible,” said La Contessa. “How could that have happened?”“A terrible accident,” said Minke Ohmdant. “It must have been an oversight by ze staff.”“A couple of things don’t add up,” murmured Nick to La Contessa as they walked back to their room. “I think that very wealthy old lady was murdered.”
I think you should tip the concierge darling,” said La Contessa. “He seems to be struggling with the bags.”
“Of course, my Montalcino marvel,” said Nick, taking hers from the red-faced porter. “What on earth have you put in here?”“Well I have the same outfit three times,” explained La Contessa. “As I lose weight I will need them in increasingly smaller sizes.”Nick undid his own case, taking out a Hawaiian shirt and pair of shorts, as Baxter circled round the room and then settled on one of the two king size beds.“Is that all you brought?” said La Contessa, coming over to look at his case. “What made it so heavy.”“Well it is the Shah Kra Detox and Wellness Retreat,” said Nick showing her the bottles of vodka, gin and vermouth. “I assumed they would not have a bar.”“So good to see you getting into the spirit,” observed La Contessa icily. “You even brought the cocktail shaker.”“Always prepared, my Caccamo cub scout,” smiled Nick. “I see some of the other inmates are rather well known.”“Oh really?” said La Contessa, instantly distracted. “I know these spas attract some very well heeled people.”“That gleaming Rolls Royce out the front had the number plate VV,” said Nick. “Which I assume belongs to casino heiress Virginia Valentine.”“Crikey, is she still alive?” said La Contessa. “And I thought I saw that Hollywood hunk Aaron Flynn. At least we can spend our time looking for stars instead of hunting for killers.”Suddenly from outside there came the most terrible scream.Don’t miss tomorrow’s episode by Matthew Benns. Order the new Nick and La Contessa novel The Dying Diplomats Club online or at your local bookstore.
Gosh, that was a bit explosive,” said La Contessa, settling down on the couch next to Baxter. “Why do you think Wendy O’Dea threw her champagne into ‘Lady’ Arabella’s face?”“I expect the fact that they were both jockey Danny Jones’s lovers at the same time may have had something to do with it,” said Nick, handing his wife a glass of egg nog stiffened with brandy.“But they knew that a long time ago,” said La Contessa. “Ooo that’s strong. Why fire up again now?”“I have a sneaking suspicion that if we knew the answer to that we would be getting a lot closer to finding his killer,” said Nick. “I’m looking forward to a relaxing Christmas at home trying to figure it out.”“Ah, really darling?” said La Contessa, in a voice that made Nick’s eyebrows shoot up in alarm. “You wouldn’t fancy a little time away?”“With all this COVID nonsense I was thinking we should stay at home,” he said. “With Baxter.”“Well the good news is that I have booked us into the Shah Kra Detox and Wellness Retreat,” said La Contessa. “And they are letting us take Baxter as long as we pay full price for him.”“Detox,” said Nick, his face ashen. “Wellness retreat. That sounds awful.”“Nonsense darling,” said La Contessa. “It will be three weeks of exercise and good living from Monday.”“Three weeks!” said Nick, slumping to the sofa, his head in his hands.“At least we can get away from these killings,” said La Contessa. “Surely there won’t be any murders there.”Don’t miss the start of Murder in Paradise, the daily Nick and La Contessa summer special, which starts on Monday.
Can you bring some more champagne darling,” called La Contessa. “We seem to be having a dry argument here.”The annual Christmas party in the back garden was in full swing and Nick was struggling to find time to get a drink in between topping up everybody else.“I do hope we are not breaching any COVID gathering laws,” said La Contessa. “Have you gathered any intelligence on our suspects?”Nick glanced to where dead jockey Danny Jones’s girlfriend Tamsin Mallory was chatting to his former strapper and lover Wendy O’Dea.“Surprisingly they seem to be getting on swimmingly,” said Nick. “Even more surprisingly Rose Turner seems perfectly happy chatting to Detective Inspector Cleaver.”“Given he arrested her that is a surprise,” agreed La Contessa. “Oh darling, you don’t have a drink. That’s not like you.”Nick grimaced and as he looked round for a glass the back gate opened and chauffeur Arthur Minns pushed in a wheelchair containing a heavily bandaged woman. Baxter emerged from under the table to give a low growl at the lanky driver.“Oh no,” spat Wendy O’Dea. “I hoped the car crash had killed her.”“ ‘Lady’ Arabella, covered La Contessa smoothly. “How lovely you could make it.”“I won’t be cutting a rug,” said Ron Saunders’ widow. “But at least it’s not too far to fall if I have too many champagnes.”“You can start with mine,” snarled Wendy O’Dea, flinging her drink into ‘Lady’ Arabella’s face and storming out.“Oh dear,” said La Contessa. “It seems the party has started.”
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Oh no darling that simply won’t do,” said La Contessa as Nick struggled through the back gate with an enormous fresh cut Christmas tree. “It’s too small.”“Once you get the lights on it will be visible from the moon,” said Nick, red faced from exertion. “It’ll be a navigation hazard to satellites.”“And you haven’t ordered enough champagne,’’ said La Contessa, gesturing to the mountain of wine boxes delivered earlier. “COVID restrictions are easing so we will need more now that our annual yuletide soiree can go ahead.”“My Rimini reindeer let me reassure you I have never been accused of scrimping on the festive cheer,” said Nick, before pausing. “What do you mean Christmas party?”“We do it every year darling although this year I feel I am suffering from ‘Santa Anxiety’,” said La Contessa. “It’s a medical term for people who don’t think they will get everything Christmassy done before December 24.”“Isn’t that party the one we hold for your family,” said Nick, a worried look creasing his brow. “The one your dearly sainted mother comes to?”“That’s it although last year she had to leave early, remember?” said La Contessa. “Baxter knocked eggnog onto her dress.”“Good boy Baxter,” said Nick, his brain working overdrive as the loyal beagle wagged his tail. “I think we may have to rethink this year.”“Why darling?”“Because it’s the perfect opportunity to invite the three women we suspect of breaking in and stealing Ron Saunders diary,” said Nick. “And I would hate to put your mother in harm’s way.”
Finally I have managed to download the footage from the hidden camera,” said Nick excitedly. “Hopefully it will give us a clue on who broke in and stole Ron Saunders’ diary.”“Oh no darling,” sighed La Contessa looking up from the big TV screen Nick wanted to use. “Not now.”“Not now?” repeated Nick in astonishment. “But this could give us a direct lead to the person who killed Danny Jones and Ron Saunders. You normally love this stuff.”“I know darling but can’t you see I’m watching the new series of The Crown and it’s appalling.”“Appalling?” said Nick, conscious he was sounding like a parrot. “If it’s appalling why on earth watch it?”“No, no, I mean it’s appalling how they treated poor Princess Diana. Charles was beastly.”“Well never mind about how they treated Diana, what about this footage?”“Oh Nicky!” said La Contessa frostily. “I can’t believe you of all people would dismiss that poor girl’s suffering. You are just like the rest of those awful men.”“You misunderstand, my Vesuvian Venus,” implored Nick. “I just want to see the video in case we need to act quickly.”“Really?” replied La Contessa huffily. “Put it on then, let’s see what other horrible man would choose to break into our home.”Nick turned off The Crown and hit play on the waiting footage. The screen showed the gate opening and a hooded figure entering the garden. They both gasped.“Darling I think I may owe you an apology,” said La Contessa. “That is unmistakably a woman.“And I bet I can guess who,” said Nick.
Gosh, darling what was that?” La Contessa, sat bolt upright in bed as Baxter started barking wildly. “I heard a crash.”“Eh, what’s that?” said Nick groggily, his head still on the pillow. “Probably just a possum.”“There it is again,” said La Contessa, giving him a shove. “You need to investigate.” Nick replied with a gentle snore.“If you want a job done, do it yourself,” she muttered, pulling on her dressing gown. “Come on Baxter.”La Contessa opened the bedroom door and Baxter went yelping down the corridor, his paws whirling on the floorboards. At the same moment Rose Turner appeared from her bedroom with an eye mask pushed up on her forehead. “What’s going on?”“I think there’s someone in the garden,” said La Contessa, stopping to pick up a poker from the dining room fireplace. “They may be after Ron Saunders’s diary.”There was a yelp from Baxter and an angry shout as La Contessa rushed through the kitchen and into the garden. A black clad figure was attempting to shake Baxter’s vice-like grip from a very painful ankle.“Good boy Baxter,” said La Contessa, rushing up with the poker raised. “How dare you break into my home!” A final kick shook Baxter loose and the burglar hurtled through the gate with the dead trainer’s diary clutched in a gloved hand.“Don’t worry my fearless warrior,” said Nick, emerging from the kitchen in his pyjamas and pointing to the small digital camera he had installed earlier. “This may well help us identify who wants that diary so badly.”
Darling, isn’t it exciting the borders are opening up again,” enthused La Contessa. “It is great for the country and for us.”“Mmm, what’s that my Milano marvel?” said Nick, reaching for his martini as he read the paper. “Wonderful for us?”“Why, my mother of course,” said La Contessa as Nick gave a strangled choke and sprayed martini into the sports section. “With the borders opening she can come to stay.”“Why yes of course!” said Nick, mopping at the paper. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.”“On November 23, in less than a couple of weeks, we can get her on a plane,” said La Contessa, as Baxter whimpered and put his paws over his ears. “She could stay for Christmas.”“Absolutely brilliant,” said Nick, his eyes wide with barely concealed terror. “How lovely to see that dearly sainted woman. Only …”“Yes,” smiled La Contessa before stopping. “Only what?”“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Nick, as La Contessa fixed him with a concerned stare. “Only, I do so worry about her safety. There have been a string of murders and I would hate to put her in harm’s way. Of course, if you are OK with that …”“What?” said La Contessa. “Do you really think it’s dangerous?”“I fear someone will break in to retrieve the late Ron Saunders’ diary,” said Nick. “I would hate for your mother to be here if that happened.”“Gosh, I will tell her not to come,” said La Contessa as Nick breathed a sigh of relief. “But who do you think is coming for the diary?”
“That was awful,” said a shaken Tamsin Mallory as La Contessa handed her a cup of camomile tea. “Will she be all right?”“Well she was unconscious when the ambulance took her away,” said Nick. “It’s early days. What exactly did she say to you when she arranged the meeting?”“She said she had found one of her husband Ron’s old diaries and that it shed some light on his murder.”Baxter barked and the garden gate opened to reveal the portly form of Detective Inspector Cleaver. “Our forensics boffins seem to think that ‘Lady’ Arabella’s brakes were tampered with,” he said. “I think you should be very careful young lady.”Tamsin Mallory went white and shakily got to her feet. “I think I had better go,” she said.As she exited through the gate, Nick gave a heavy sigh. “What a shame we did not know about that diary earlier,” he said. “It might have given us the lead we needed to get to the bottom of these killings.”“The interior of the car is pretty much a crisp,” said Cleaver. “The diary has probably gone up in smoke.”Nick cast a suspicious glance at his uncharacteristically silent wife. She was hopping from foot to foot in excitement.“Come on my Milanese minx,” he said. “Out with it.”“Do you think this could be the diary,” said La Contessa, flourishing a slim red leather bound book. “I saw it on the floor as we pulled ‘Lady’ Arabella from the car.”“You wonderful girl,” cried Nick. “Let’s see what it says.”
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“We have to help,” cried La Contessa as smoke billowed through the garden gate.Nick and Baxter, still in their matching yellow Hawaiian shirts, were already dashing into the street where flames were licking at the bonnet of a new Audi that had hit a pole.“‘Lady’ Arabella is still inside,” shouted Nick, rushing to the driver’s door. “It’s jammed.”La Contessa darted to his side and together they pulled again. The buckled door ground open and Nick ripped at the airbags while La Contessa took a deep breath and plunged her head into the smoke-filled cabin to release the seat belt. Baxter bit onto “Lady” Arabella Saunders’ sleeve and together the three of them pulled her from the car and onto the pavement.“She is bleeding,” said a white-faced Tamsin Mallory from the kerb. “This is all my fault.”“I will get the first aid kit,” said La Contessa.Quickly Nick pulled off Baxter’s Hawaiian shirt and staunched the wound before binding it with his matching shirt as La Contessa re-emerged with the bandage.“Really Nicky, you couldn’t have waited for two minutes,” she said. “Your new shirts.”Baxter nudged Nick’s arm with his nose and wagged his tail.“What did you mean this was all your fault?” Nick asked Tamsin as the wail of sirens could be heard in the distance.“I should have warned her that telling people she had found a clue to Ron’s murder was going to draw the attention of some very dangerous people,” she said. “Who’s next?”
“This, this, this …” spluttered Nick helplessly. “This is out…”“Thank you, darling,” sighed La Contessa happily. “You are right, this is outstanding.”“No, my Florentine fashionista,” said Nick, gesturing to the yellow Hawaiian shirt with pink hibiscus flowers. “This is outrageous.”“Oh, you don’t like it?” said La Contessa. “I was reading that matching pyjamas for girls and their dogs was all the rage.”Clearly unimpressed in his own matching Hawaiian shirt, Baxter stood up on his mink blanket and turned his back. He continued to chew at the buttons.“But these aren’t pyjamas …” started Nick.“Of course not, silly,” explained La Contessa. “You are boys. And besides, I wanted you to wear them for our meeting.”“What meeting?” said Nick, turning a deeper shade of puce. “Why do I never seem to know what is going on around here?”“I think you are spending too much time drinking martinis and trying to solve these murders,” said La Contessa. “And that’s what our meeting is about.”Nick collapsed helplessly on to the sofa and gestured for his wife to continue.“I ran into ‘Lady’ Arabella Saunders yesterday and she said she had found something that might explain her husband Ron’s murder,” said La Contessa. “She said she was meeting the dead jockey Danny Jones’s girlfriend Tamsin Mallory today to talk about it.”“And you want me to go dressed like this?” asked Nick, before he was interrupted by a crash and the tearing sound of metal outside. Moments later, Tamsin Mallory burst through the garden gate.“You had better come,” she said. “There’s been a terrible accident.”
Don’t miss next Tuesday’s episode by Matthew Benns.
“Look, I saw the money on the table and took my chance,” repeated Rose petulantly. “Now I’m going to bed. Call the cops if you want to, I don’t care.”“Charming,” said La Contessa, flopping on to the couch as Rose stomped from the room. “Make me one of those marvellous martinis of yours, please darling.”“She may have run off with the cash,” said Nick, loudly plopping ice into the shaker. “But that doesn’t explain how she got the ankle bracelet off.”“I wouldn’t mind one of those martinis,” said Detective Inspector Cleaver, who had been quietly watching the interrogation. “I’m guessing her old accomplice Arthur Minns had something to do with it.”“He won’t be coming anywhere near here after Baxter scared the life out of him,” chuckled La Contessa fondly. Baxter sighed at the mention of his name and rolled over on his mink-covered sleep pod.“Just like Josh Frydenberg tonight,” said Nick. “Credit where credit is due. But that ankle bracelet is a mystery.”“And not the only one,” said Cleaver. “I take it you don’t want me to report Miss Turner’s breach of bail for the moment?”“No, I think we will find out more with her here,” said Nick. “Somehow she is involved in Danny Jones’s murder.”“Well there is a roll call of suspects who could have killed him,” said La Contessa, sipping her martini appreciatively.“Yes,” said Nick, pointing to the wads of money sitting on the table. “And the motive for his stabbing is right here. Let’s hope one of them comes to get it.”
Baxter! What are you doing in here?” said La Contessa as the front door to Turner Towers locked behind her. “Clever dog, lead the way.”Baxter, nose pressed into the deep pile Axminster, unerringly headed to the ground floor door of apartment two. The home of Rolls-Royce driving chauffeur Arthur Minns. “Yowf,” said Baxter, looking up expectantly and wagging his tail. La Contessa rapped sharply on the door and stepped to one side to avoid being observed through the peephole. As the door cracked open La Contessa threw her weight against it, sending her and the lanky chauffeur sprawling into the lobby.“Not you again,” snarled Minns, struggling to get up while reaching for what appeared to be a switchblade in his trouser pocket. Growling, Baxter landed with a thud of all four paws on his chest. “Get this bloomin’ wolf off me!”“He is hardly a wolf you big baby,” said La Contessa, hopping lightly to her feet and heading into the apartment. “Good boy Baxter.”As she stepped into the main room she was confronted by Rose Turner stuffing wads of notes into a duffel bag. “That’s it, I’m off,” Rose said, stepping through the glass doors onto the balcony.“Rose, nobody knows you’ve gone,” said La Contessa. “Let’s pop home and talk things through over a nice martini.”“No chance,” said Rose, clearing the balcony and dropping the short distance … straight into the outstretched arms of resting detective Nick Moore.“Good catch darling,” said La Contessa popping her head over the balustrade. “Now let’s find out what made her run.”
“Oh no!” gasped La Contessa, looking through the glass door of Turner Towers. “That’s awful.”“What is it my Bolzano beauty?” asked Nick, as Baxter whimpered in concern. “Is there another body?”“No, it’s my COVID face,” said La Contessa, fighting back tears as she pointed to her reflection. “I’ve got the dreaded lockdown looks, saggy skin, the pandemic grimace.”“Nonsense, you are still the cutest corona kisser this side of lockdown,” said Nick. “Which is a testament to your Italian origins given the stress of solving all these murders.”“Do you really think so?” said La Contessa, perking up. “I do wish Detective Inspector Cleaver would hurry up. I’m worried Rose Turner will do the Harold Holt before he gets here.”“The Harold Holt?” said Nick, eyebrows shooting up in astonishment.“Yes, the bolt darling, I heard it on a crime show. It means …”“Now here are a couple of likely suspects,” said Det Insp Cleaver, appearing at the entrance with his bulldog Brian.“That’s hardly the back-up I had in mind,” said La Contessa. “I expected a SWAT team not a fat bulldog.”“This one’s off the books until we ascertain she is in there or until I get a warrant,” Cleaver said. “And I have a hunch you don’t want to wait.”“Patience is not a known characteristic,” said Nick. “You cover the back and I will …”He was cut off by the door buzzing open and Catherine Turner emerging with her pekinese.“Wait!” said Nick as La Contessa caught the closing door and slipped inside.
What on earth is that dog doing?” exclaimed La Contessa, using the torch on her phone to light up the garden gate where the intrepid beagle was scratching.“Sniffing out his next dinner I imagine,” said Nick, putting down his martini and walking over. “May I ask what that is on your phone?”“Oh, they are pictures of the scan thingy you have to photograph before you go into a cafe,” La Contessa explained. “Although how taking a picture of that keeps track of people for COVID is beyond me.”“Well actually you are supposed to scan the QR code and then enter your details,” said Nick before seeing the puzzled frown on his wife’s brow. “Actually my Modena marvel, it’s new technology, utterly baffling.”“I tell you what is baffling, is how Rose Turner got away from here so quickly with the winnings from Nochance’s last race,” said La Contessa. “What is it?”Nick had sprung to his feet, clipped on Baxter’s lead and now threw open the garden gate. “I think Baxter might be on to something,” he said as the dog yanked him across the road, nose pressed to the asphalt.“I thought you said she had outside help,” said La Contessa, when she finally caught up with the two of them at the entrance to Turner Towers. Baxter looked at them both expectantly.“Exactly,” said Nick. “I think she may have bolted here and is hiding out in one of these apartments.”“But which one?” said La Contessa as Baxter cocked his leg and carefully marked one of the Turner Towers letter boxes.
Darling I have just met the lovely new girl Luigi has hired for the restaurant,” said La Contessa, handing Nick a takeaway coffee. “Her name is Hi Jeannie Marshall.”“Actually darling that’s her job,” said Nick, “She is the coronavirus Hygiene Marshall.”“Gosh, what a coincidence that it is her name as well,” said La Contessa. “But we have had some extraordinary coincidences recently.”“Ahh my Macari marvel, I find there are very few real coincidences in life,” said Nick. “Or crime.””How else can you explain exactly how Rose Turner managed to get that tracing ankle bracelet off, kill the lights at the mains and get away with the money moments after we had dug it from the grounds of Turner Towers,” asked La Contessa.“She must have known it was there all along,” said Nick, grimacing at the coffee. “The only time I like this is when it is in an expresso martini. Now, that’s an idea.”“Oh, I love it when that great detective brain of yours clicks into gear,” sighed La Contessa admiringly. “I was thinking one of the dead jockey Danny Jones’s lovers had killed him for the money. What are you thinking?”“What? Oh, I was thinking I could let this coffee chill down and experiment with an expresso martini of my own,” said Nick, as his wife let out a disappointed sigh. “But actually I do think you might be onto something. Quite clearly Rose Turner has had some outside assistance. And I have a good idea just who that might be.”
“Darling! What’s happened to the lights?” said La Contessa, as Baxter started barking and growling. “Ouch, watch where you are going.”“That was not me,” said Nick. “There is somebody else here. Put on your cycle lamp!”There was a yelp of pain and tearing of fabric as Baxter bit into the mystery intruder. It was followed by a scraping from where the tin had crashed, spilling the plastic wrapped cash. Nick crashed over the sofa and blundered into the intruder who yelped again. There was a violent kick, Baxter whimpered and then the garden gate opened as La Contessa turned on the blinking lamp.“Baxter!,” she cried, stepping over Nick’s prostrate form to get to the whimpering Beagle. “Oh you brave boy. Are you hurt?”“No, just a little winded,” said Nick, before realising his wife’s concern was focused squarely on the dog. “Whoever that was knew exactly what they were looking for.”He was struck by a sudden thought and jumped to his feet, rushing to the spare room where multiple killer Rose Turner was staying. He switched the mains back on as he passed the circuit board. Moments later he re-emerged carrying the opened electronic ankle monitor.“Rose Turner has gone and so has all the money,” he said. “She has outsmarted us after all.”“Nonsense darling,” said La Contessa, coming over with a martini that had somehow survived the excitement. “We will just have to get back to work to track her down.”“Yowf,” said Baxter.
“Golly darling, I think you had better make me a martini,” said La Contessa, her cheeks glowing red from exertion. “And help me pull off these gumboots.”Sitting on the table in the garden was a metal box the size of a large biscuit tin that they had dug up from the gardens of Turner Towers. Baxter was sniffing it suspiciously.“Given that we found this tin in the exact spot where Danny Jones was killed I think we can surmise that his new job as a gardener was just a cover to get him into Turner Towers,” said Nick, putting La Contessa’s leg between his and pulling off her wellington boot. He pulled off the other and staggered over to the fridge to get ice for the martinis.“There is a padlock on the tin but I think I can pick that,” continued Nick. “With evidence like this it is important not to damage …”The rest of his sentence was cut short by a loud clang and wrenching of metal. He spun round to see the broken tin crash to the floor at La Contessa’s feet. She had a mallet and chisel in her hands.“Oh darling, I thought we would just get on with it,” she said. “And look at what we have found!”Spilled out across the floor were plastic sealed wads of $100 notes. “The winnings from the illegal punting on Nochance by Danny Jones and Ron Saunders I imagine,” said Nick as all the lights blinked out.
“Golly darling, I think you had better make me a martini,” said La Contessa, her cheeks glowing red from exertion. “And help me pull off these gumboots.”Sitting on the table in the garden was a metal box the size of a large biscuit tin that they had dug up from the gardens of Turner Towers. Baxter was sniffing it suspiciously.“Given that we found this tin in the exact spot where Danny Jones was killed I think we can surmise that his new job as a gardener was just a cover to get him into Turner Towers,” said Nick, putting La Contessa’s leg between his and pulling off her wellington boot. He pulled off the other and staggered over to the fridge to get ice for the martinis.“There is a padlock on the tin but I think I can pick that,” continued Nick. “With evidence like this it is important not to damage …”The rest of his sentence was cut short by a loud clang and wrenching of metal. He spun round to see the broken tin crash to the floor at La Contessa’s feet. She had a mallet and chisel in her hands.“Oh darling, I thought we would just get on with it,” she said. “And look at what we have found!”Spilled out across the floor were plastic sealed wads of $100 notes. “The winnings from the illegal punting on Nochance by Danny Jones and Ron Saunders I imagine,” said Nick as all the lights blinked out.
“This is so exciting,” said La Contessa, adjusting the LED cycling lamp she had strapped to her head. “Should I wear the floral Hunter wellies or the green Barbour gumboots?”“We are meant to be attempting a discreet sortie into the gardens of Turner Towers,” sighed Nick. “Not conducting a fashion parade for gardeners.”“So just the green ones then,” said La Contessa decisively. “I think we should bring Baxter. He is a beagle and will be able to sniff out any buried loot.”“Look it is only a hunch,” repeated Nick, regretting once again sharing with his wife his musings on the possible motive for the killing of Danny Jones. “It just struck me as odd that he would start working as a gardener at Turner Towers, the very place where the trainer of Nochance, on which he won, also lived.”“I think it is brilliant,” said La Contessa, picking up a spade and grabbing Baxter’s lead. “If they had to hide the winnings then it would be the perfect spot to bury it.”La Contessa turned on her headlamp and headed out of the gate and into the night. “Do you know how to stop it flashing?” she asked as the light strobed the walls of Turner Towers and Baxter tugged her towards the bushes.“Look darling, he is digging at the exact spot where Danny Jones’s body was found,” said La Contessa, jumping in with the spade to help the burrowing beagle.“Here, let me help,” said Nick, taking the spade. His next thrust into the soil returned a metallic clang.
“Really Ray, that is so interesting,” said Nick before a cry of anguish rang out from the kitchen. “I’m sorry old boy, I will have to go.”“Oh no, my duck a l’orange is ruined,” wailed La Contessa, carrying a smoking pan into the garden. “And it was going to be a gourmet dining experience.”“I’m not sure you’re meant to flambé duck a l’orange,” said Nick.“I wasn’t flambéing it,” La Contessa replied frostily. “It flambéed itself in the oven. Anyway, who were you talking to for so long?”“Racing Ray Thomas, the best informed turf journalist in Australia,” said Nick. “He remembers the amazing ride Danny Jones had on Nochance and the subsequent hoo ha.”“What the horrible fall?” said La Contessa, placing the still smoking pan on the ground.“Yes that but also the rumours surrounding the win,” said Nick as Baxter hopped off his mink blanket. “It came in unexpectedly at odds of more than 150 to one.”“Well we know that’s the gamble that paid off to allow Charles Turner to save his empire,” said La Contessa.“Yes, but Ray seems to think there were others in on the win as well. Logically they would have to include Danny the jockey and Ron Saunders the trainer.”“Ah, so you think there was a big payday?” said La Contessa. “Baxter, don’t eat my duck!”“Yes, apparently there were rumours of a trunk of cash being spirited away,” said Nick. “It makes me wonder what Danny Jones was doing in the garden just before he was killed.”
“For detectives, you two would really make a great husband and wife house-cleaning team,” sneered Rose Turner. “Or maybe you should go into baking.”“The only one ’round here who got into a mess chasing dough was you,” fired Nick, stalking over to the martini shaker. “That’s why you have been cooling your buns in the slammer.”“At least the dough I was chasing after was worth it,” said Rose angrily. “My dear Daddy’s fortune was worth billions.”“What on Earth is that supposed to mean?” said La Contessa as Nick shook the martini far more vigorously than usual. “I was just asking about Danny Jones.”“I cannot believe he was even half my brother,” scoffed Rose. “The sum he was chasing from the Nochance debacle was a fraction of the real prize.”“What on Earth do you mean?” asked La Contessa as Nick handed her the martini, cloudy with shards of violently shaken ice.“You two are the detectives,” said Rose. “The Laurel and Hardy of police work, the…”“I think we get the point,” said Nick. “We were still sharp enough to put you behind bars.”“And dopey enough to help me get out again,” said Rose, swivelling on her heel and heading to her room.“Gosh, she really does have a touch of attitude,” said La Contessa. “I’m beginning to wonder if I did the right thing in helping her get bail.”“Nonsense my Siracusa siren,” said Nick unexpectedly. “You may have delivered us the key to solving these murders.”
“Darling, how lovely to see you,” said La Contessa, rushing to embrace Rose Turner as she walked into the garden. “You do look awfully, well, grey, don’t they have sunshine in prison?”“I suppose I should thank you for persuading your cousin Atticus to take my case,” said Rose sullenly. “If it wasn’t for him I would still be rotting in that cell.”“Yes, that was a surprise to all of us,” said Nick pointedly, glowering at La Contessa. “Having worked so hard to get you behind bars it certainly took an unexpected hand to get you released.”Baxter remained uncharacteristically fixed to his mink blanket, hackles up and emitting a low growl.“Now, now Baxter,” La Contessa chided him. “I know Rose tried to kill me once but that’s all in the past. Isn’t it darling?”‘Mmm hmm,” said Rose noncommittally. “Am I staying in my old room? I’d love to freshen up. This damn ankle bracelet is really annoying me.”“Ah yes, the price of being out on bail for multiple murders,” observed Nick archly. “Are you happy for us to call you Rose or would you like to still pretend to be Pansy Potter, your twin sister you pushed off the top of Turner Towers?”“Nicky, that’s no way to speak to our guest,” said La Contessa. “Rose darling you just make yourself at home.”As Rose turned to leave La Contessa suddenly added: “There is just one thing I wanted to ask. Your half brother Danny Jones, any idea why someone would want to kill him?”
“What!” retired policeman and resting detective Nick Moore’s startled exclamation on the phone almost made La Contessa drop the face mask she was sewing. “Released on bail, I can’t believe it. How?”La Contessa poured all of her concentration into the task at hand as Nick continued the call. “Had a very good lawyer … Atticus Morelli … obsessed with her … got her bail … released into whose custody?”“Is everything all right darling?” La Contessa asked innocently as an ashen faced Nick sat on the sofa next to her in a state of shock. “Can I get you a martini?”“Rose Turner has been released on bail,” said Nick. “The judge released her because she had one of the best lawyers in the country, who she apparently seduced. Any idea how she could have afforded him in the first place?”“Oh darling how would I know how Rose could afford to hire Atticus?”“Perhaps because Atticus Morelli is your cousin and you recommended him,” said Nick, sitting up. “She is a serial killer, what on earth were you thinking?”“Oh darling, she seemed such a lovely girl most of the time and technically she didn’t kill anyone when she was staying with us,” said La Contessa. “I know she held a gun to my head but really that was in extremis.”“Well she has been released into our custody,” said Nick as Baxter started to bark and the doorbell rang. “That will be her now.”
It is an extraordinary coincidence,” said La Contessa, taking the proffered martini and shaking her head. “I simply can’t believe it.”“I am not a big believer in coincidences,” said Nick, pacing the garden as Baxter’s eyes followed him from his luxurious mink blanket. “Especially where murders are concerned.”“But the fact they all knew and said nothing,” said La Contessa. “Sitting there at my fine dining party and not a murmur or a peep. Unbelievable.”“Yes, if it wasn’t for that rather brilliant question you asked at the end we would never have found out,” said Nick.“Oh darling, did you really think it was brilliant?” said La Contessa, preening slightly. “I simply asked Tamsin Mallory if she knew Danny Jones’s family.”“Absolutely brilliant because she then blithely revealed he was Rose Turner’s half-brother,” said Nick. “The same Rose Turner we helped put behind bars for that string of COVID lockdown murders.”“You can’t blame their mother Victoria Potter for looking for solace after Charles Turner abandoned her with twins,” said La Contessa. “Awful to leave them penniless despite his billions.”“Danny’s father Johnny Jones was a notorious rake as well as a legendary jockey,” said Nick. “Which explains Danny’s prowess in the saddle and the bedroom.”“Three lovers — Wendy O’Dea, ‘Lady’ Arabella, Tamsin Mallory — about the time of his big win on Nochance,” said La Contessa. “It’s all linked but I can’t see how.”“Nochance was a big payday for everyone,” said Nick. “I wonder where Rose Turner was that day?”
“My compliments to the chef,” said Nick as Dame Edna lookalike Noelene cleared away the plates. “The pickle in the cheeseburger was extraordinary.”“Thank you Mr Moore,” said Bert, wiping his hands anxiously on his apron. “I’m sorry about the little fire in the fryer. I’m sure they still sell those curtains.”“Think nothing of it,” said Nick. “You must give the buffalo wing sauce recipe to my wife.”“You are enjoying this far too much,” La Contessa fumed as she delicately dabbed at a tomato sauce stain on her friend Camilla’s new gown. “Aren’t there some questions you should be asking?”Nick looked at Detective Inspector Cleaver, who had been carefully placed in between dead jockey Danny Jones’s girlfriend Tamsin Mallory and his strapper and former lover Wendy O’Dea. Glowering across the table was recently deceased trainer Ron Saunders’ widow ‘Lady’ Arabella. Next to her sat Catherine Turner, the widow of billionaire Charles Turner, who was chatting to lawyer Mark Hutchinson and his lover Dr Emily Chen.“Look Moore, what is this all about?” demanded Hutchinson. “We are only here because the Detective Inspector made it clear the invite was non negotiable.”“You all have something to do with Charles Turner’s horse Nochance,” said Nick, pointing at Hutchinson. “You, for instance, organised his purchase.”“That was all a long time ago,” sniffed Catherine Turner. “And cheeseburgers are not my definition of fine dining.”“Maybe not,” said Nick, “but somebody here knows why people linked to Nochance keep dying.”
“Yes, thank you Bert,” said La Contessa, handing an overweight balding man in a greasy apron a tomato sauce bottle from the table. “I think we might put the condiments in a bowl.”“Righto Duchess, you’re the boss,” said Bert. “I must say it was a surprise to be invited into such a nice place to cook.”“Nicky, wipe that smile off your face and help me with the settings,” said La Contessa. “This isn’t the two-Michelin starred dining experience I had told everyone to expect.”“In fairness my Gambassi goddess, I checked Ruckpool’s website and they were highly commended in the Australian cheeseburger championships of 1996,” said Nick. “They didn’t even win?” asked La Contessa as Bert walked over with a laminated menu.“So duchess, I know on your email you said you were leaving the degustation menu up to me,” said Bert. “I Googled degustation and thought I might kick off with some buffalo wings, then …”“Thank you Bert, whatever you think best,” said La Contessa, putting a hand to her forehead. “Oh dear, I may have to go and lie down.”“No time for that my Caccamo chicken,” said Nick, as Baxter started barking and the doorbell rang. “Our guests will be here any moment.”He answered the door to a woman who would have put Dame Edna Everage’s dress sense to shame followed by a grinning Det Inspector Cleaver.“This is my wife Noelene,” said Bert. “She’s the waitress for tonight. I told her to dress up a bit.”
“My friend Camilla did it and it was a huge success,” said La
Contessa. “So I have been inspired.”
“Hmmm?” said Nick absently, sipping a martini and reading the newspaper. “Inspired to do what?”
“With the COVID lockdowns a lot of the restaurants are closed and so the chefs are coming to you and cooking in people’s homes,” explained La Contessa. “Camilla had the chef from Noma come in and provide a degustation.”“What Noma, as in the two-Michelin-star restaurant from Copenhagen that has been consistently voted best restaurant in the world, Noma?”“Yes, darling. Well, I didn’t want to copy her exactly so I thought I would get the chef from one of our best restaurants, so I have booked the chef from Rockpool,” said La Contessa, pulling up a booking on her phone. “I can’t find my glasses, you can read it.”Nick took the phone while his wife expanded on the guest list. “I thought we could invite all the people who knew Danny Jones and Ron Saunders and see if it throws us any clues to their murders. Nicky, why are your shoulders shaking?”“I think that’s a great idea,” said Nick wiping his eyes. “Are you imagining them loosening up over the fine food and delicately matched wines?”“Of course, I have already invited Camilla and told her to wear her new gown.”“The only slight hiccup my Calabrian connoisseur is that you have not booked Rockpool but Ruckpool,” said Nick, barely containing his mirth. “Which is a rugby themed burger bar from one of the dodgier suburbs in town!”
“Watch out,” shouted Nick as Baxter jumped and bumped the brawling figures of Wendy O’Dea and Tamsin Mallory clear of the speeding car. Nick grabbed La Contessa and pulled her into the hedge as the blue Range Rover hurtled across the road and T-boned the new BMW, pinning it to a now bent lamp post. Standing, shocked and shaking behind the lamp post that saved him, Georgios Papadakis let out an anguished howl.“Oh no, not again. My new car, it was beautiful and now it is crushed,” he slowly sank to his knees. “I thought when the girl was arrested I would be safe to try again. But no.”“Is that the fifth one that’s been written off?” asked Nick, emerging from the bushes and pulling La Contessa clear. “Bit of a rough trot.”Baxter was wagging his tail and barking at the two young women he had saved as Nick rushed over to the driver’s door of the Range Rover and yanked it hard to reveal ‘Lady’ Arabella surrounded by inflated airbags.“I’m so sorry, I saw those two girls fighting and I lost control,” she said shakily. “Is anybody hurt?”“Fortunately no,” said Nick, helping her from the car. “Why did seeing them throw you so badly? Is it because you all shared the same lover?”“Nicky! Now is not the time,” said La Contessa, rushing over to help ‘Lady’ Arabella from the car. “Can’t you see she is badly shaken?”“That’s exactly why now is the time,” said Nick with a shake of his head. “Something does not add up here.”
“Darling, I think I may have touched a nerve,” observed La Contessa as Nochance’s strapper Wendy O’Dea slammed the garden gate behind her. “Did she seem a teensy bit annoyed?”“I think we will make a detective of you yet,” said Nick. “It may have been when you pointed out how her boyfriend Danny Jones was actually in a menage a trois with his trainer’s wife ‘Lady’ Arabella Saunders and last girlfriend Tamsin Mallory.”Any further musings were interrupted by a loud crash, several screams and the familiar voice of their neighbour Georgios Papadakis. They were moments behind Baxter in heading for the street.“No, no, watch my car. It’s new,” cried Georgios as Wendy O’Dea tugged and pulled at the hair of Tamsin Mallory in the street next to a brand new, gleaming red BMW M3.“I thought Georgios was taking the bus from now on?” said La Contessa as Nick rushed forward to try and break up the brawling women.“You killed him,” snarled Wendy, furiously clawing for Tamsin’s eyes. But she was too quick and grabbed a fistful of the strapper’s hair. “No, I saved him after you abandoned him when he needed you most,” Tamsin hissed.Baxter started barking a furious warning as ‘Lady’ Arabella swung out of Turner Towers car park in a powder blue Range Rover Evoque. She looked shocked at the sight of her two rivals for Danny Jones’s affection brawling in the street. She momentarily lost control and the four-wheel-drive spun towards the group on the pavement.
“Can I get you a cup of tea?” La Contessa asked solicitously as the clearly highly strung young woman paced the back garden, gnawing at her nails.“Why did you contact me?” Wendy O’Dea fired at Nick, ignoring La Contessa’s question. “I have had nothing to do with Danny Jones since he fell off Nochance a few years ago.”“You didn’t want to check on his health?” asked Nick. “I heard that you and Danny were quite close there for a while.”“Yeah, well that all ended when he met Tamsin Mallory,” snarled Wendy. “As far as I was concerned she could take care of him. Didn’t do such a good job considering he is dead.”“He’s not the only one,” said Nick. “Nochance’s trainer Ron Saunders has also been killed.”“Oh, I had no idea,” said Wendy, the wind abruptly taken from her sails. “When, I mean what happened?”“Poisoned with horse tranquilliser,” said Nick. “And that makes you the last of the Nochance winning team left alive. Do you have any idea why someone would want to kill everybody?”“It was a very difficult time and Charles Turner was putting everyone under a lot of pressure,” said Wendy. “And then there was the problem of Danny’s affair with Ron’s wife ‘Lady’ Arabella.”“Golly, that must have been a bit awkward for you given that you were obviously his girlfriend,” said La Contessa. “Did you know ‘Lady’ Arabella got him the gardening job?”“No! And I don’t care,” shouted Wendy, jumping up and storming from the house.
“Big kisses to you too darling,” said La Contessa, ending the call as Nick walked in. “That was my friend Karen and she is absolutely furious her name is being identified with these silly coronavirus complainers.” “Let me guess, she is angry about being stereotyped?” said Nick, heading straight for the martini shaker. “She is so angry she has started a ‘Karens of Australia kick back’ Facebook page and written to the Prime Minister demanding a Karen anti-discrimination law.”“And naturally Karen does not see any irony in that?” said Nick, handing his wife a martini. “In more important matters, how did Detective Inspector Cleaver go with ‘Lady’ Arabella?”“Really, I think Brian was a little insensitive in his questioning,” said La Contessa. “The way he kept pushing her, anyone would think she was the one who gave Ron the horse tranquilliser that killed him.”“So you think she is innocent?” asked Nick. “Even though his body was behind the furniture while she was sitting in the same room.”“Well she was very upset,” said La Contessa. “And I cannot imagine why anyone would want to kill their spouse.”Nick disguised the involuntary raising of his eyebrows with a nod.“How did you go in finding Wendy O’Dea?” asked La Contessa as Baxter barked and the doorbell rang. “That will be her now,” said Nick.
“Good boy Baxter,” said La Contessa. “You really are a very clever detective beagle.”“Yowf,” said Baxter.“Who is it?” asked ‘Lady’ Arabella, her face ashen. “I cannot believe there is a body behind the furniture and I had no idea.”“Me neither,” said Nick grimly, standing up from inspecting the man’s corpse. “Particularly when it is your husband. You did not happen to miss Ron this morning? Thought it was a bit quiet perhaps?”“No, he is normally up early and at track work,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella before collapsing into La Contessa’s outstretched arms. “Is he? Is he …”“Dead,” said Nick flintily. “I am afraid so and judging by the foam around his lips I would say he has been killed by an extreme overdose of the horse tranquilliser ketamine.”“Why on earth would he take a horse tranquilliser?” asked La Contessa. “It’s Tuesday morning not Saturday night.”Nick looked at his wife quizzically. “You know, some fools take it for raves and dance parties,” she explained.“He is a horse trainer in his 50s not some young raver,” said Nick. “And his hands are tied behind his back suggesting he did not take it voluntarily.”“Oh how dreadful, poor Ron,” said La Contessa. “Are you calling Detective Inspector Cleaver?”“Yes. Don’t go anywhere Arabella, I am pretty certain he is going to want to have a very long talk to you,” said Nick, heading for the door. “I’m going to find the strapper Wendy O’Dea, the last living link to the racehorse Nochance, before someone else gets to her.”
“Baxter! Do be quiet,” said La Contessa as the beagle continued to worry at something and growl from behind the furniture. “Did you ever see Danny Jones after your affair was made public?”“We kept in touch,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella. “But he moved on with his life after the fall and I tried to move on with mine. I helped where I could and got him the gardening job here.”“Only for him to end up in the bushes with a dagger through his heart,” said Nick. “Do you have any idea who would want to do that?”“I can only think it was linked to that jinxed racehorse Nochance,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella. “Everyone involved with it seems to come to harm.”“Baxter!” shouted La Contessa. “Well I guess Charles Turner is dead, poisoned by his illegitimate daughter, Nochance is stuffed and wound up in our bed as a warning and his jockey Danny Jones has been stabbed.”“Yes, really there is only Ron, who was Nochance’s trainer, and the strapper, Wendy O’Dea, left,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella. “For goodness sake, what is wrong with that dog?” said La Contessa as Baxter’s wagging tail appeared from behind the cabinet. “What is he tugging at?”La Contessa sprang to her feet and headed across the room as Baxter gave another mighty pull and a man’s black leather shoe appeared.“Oh dear,” said La Contessa as she drew level with the dog. “It’s not just a shoe, the owner is still wearing it and he appears to be dead.”
“There, there, have another sip of this lovely Darjeeling tea,” soothed La Contessa as she sat next to ‘Lady’ Arabella on the sofa. “Don’t let that beastly old Nick worry you. His bark is worse than his bite.”Nick grimaced and watched as Baxter growled at something behind the banquet on the other side of the room.“It’s all to do with that jinxed horse Nochance,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella. “Charles Turner was stretched to the limit by his bankers and needed cash to save his businesses.”“Don’t tell me one of Australia’s biggest billionaire’s needed a horse to win to save his empire!” gasped La Contessa.“Yes, he had everything he owned riding on Nochance,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella.“Was Danny Jones the jockey on Nochance that day?” asked Nick.“Yes, he was magnificent. Nochance came from behind and crossed the line in front by a nose before stumbling and sending Danny crashing to the ground,” she said with a shudder, clearly remembering the fall. “It was awful.”“And you ran out to him because you were lovers,” said Nick. “How did Ron take that?”“He was very upset. Very angry, I think more that I had made it so public,” she said. “He would have sacked Danny but he was spared because Danny could never ride again.”“Meanwhile Nochance saved Charles Turner’s fortune,” said Nick. “And everyone lived unhappily ever after.”“Not exactly,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella sadly.
“This is so exciting darling, just like real detectives,” said La Contessa as the lift ascended to the Saunders’ apartment in Turner Towers. “Perhaps we could be good cop and bad cop.”“We need to concentrate on asking ‘Lady’ Arabella about her relationship with the murdered former jockey Danny Jones,” said Nick. “And the horse Nochance whose stuffed head ended up in our bed.”“I think I should be the bad cop,” continued La Contessa. “You of all people know how firm I can be when necessary.”The lift binged their arrival and the doors opened to find ‘Lady’ Arabella standing in the spacious private foyer with her arms crossed and an angry frown on her face.“Darling, what a gorgeous print. That looks lovely on you,” gushed La Contessa warmly as they stepped from the lift. Nick’s eyebrows shot up in astonishment. “Bad cop?” he muttered under his breath.“Look, I have already told you I don’t want to talk about any of that business in the past,” said ‘Lady’ Arabella. “And that’s an end to it.”“Oh I know it must be so diffic …” started La Contessa before Nick interrupted.“That’s enough Arabella. Your former lover turns up dead in the garden outside your apartment block after you arranged for him to work here,” rasped Nick. “You need to start talking now sister.”“Oh, that’s how you do bad cop,” said La Contessa as ‘Lady’ Arabella crumpled onto the sofa with a sob.“It’s all to do with that damn horse,” she said.
“There are no two ways about it,” La Contessa told Nick and Detective Inspector Cleaver as they sipped martinis in the crisp night air. “I’m going to have to change the sheets.”“That horse’s head was stuffed and mounted years ago,” said Nick. “There was no blood.”“No, darling, it’s all that awful dust. You know how you are with your asthma.”“I don’t have asthma, it’s just a tickly … ” Nick was interrupted by a discreet cough from Cleaver. “Ah yes, Brian does not have all night.”“This was clearly a message,” Cleaver said. “The culprits broke into your bedroom through the window and propped that old stuffed head into your bed.”“Culprits?” asked Nick, as two uniformed police officers struggled to carry the stuffed head out to the waiting police van. “Because it was too heavy for one person?”Cleaver nodded. “What I don’t understand is how you did not hear it?”La Contessa’s cheeks suddenly turned pink. “We were, ah, busy in the living room,” said Nick. “Carry on.”“The fact that it is the same horse that Danny Jones was riding when he fell and was the name on the form guide that was pinned to his chest by the dagger that killed him is obviously linked,” said Cleaver. “But what does it mean?”“I’m Italian and a horse’s head in the bed is usually pretty specific,” said La Contessa. “It’s a warning to back off.”“And a message that we are upsetting some people,” said Nick. “I think we need to find out why this horse was so special.”
“Nicky!” The scream was so loud that Nick uncharacteristically dropped his martini glass as he and Baxter hurtled to the bedroom.“What is it?” he said as a trembling La Contessa flung herself into his arms.“There,” she said pointing to the bed while refusing to look and burying her head into his shoulder. Baxter jumped onto the bed and started growling at the giant bump under the covers.“Careful Baxter,” said Nick, stepping forward and throwing back the covers to reveal a stuffed and mounted horse’s head with the name Nochance on a brass plaque screwed underneath. “It’s alright, it’s been dead and stuffed a long time.”“But it’s in our bed darling,” said a shaken La Contessa. “I’m Italian. Haven’t you seen The Godfather? Don’t you know what this means?”“It’s either a very sick joke or a very clear warning,” said Nick, looking at the curtains blowing in the night breeze. “Clearly the intruder brought it in through the window.”He led La Contessa to the back of the house and mixed a consoling martini while calling Detective Inspector Cleaver to report the break-in. La Contessa, white and shaking, took the drink without speaking.“Nochance was the horse Danny Jones was riding when he fell,” said Nick.“And it was also the name of the horse on the form guide pinned to his chest by the dagger that killed him.”“Clearly someone is trying to send us a message,” said La Contessa. “And frankly it’s working.”“Exactly,” said Nick. “We are getting closer to the killer.”
“There, there,” said La Contessa, offering the weeping girl on the garden sofa another tissue. “How long had you and Danny been together?”“We were childhood sweethearts,” said Tamsin Mallory through her tears. “I knew he was the one the first time I saw him.”“I know this is difficult,” said La Contessa as Baxter came over and nuzzled up comfortingly to Tamsin. “But did you know he was having an affair with ‘Lady’ Arabella Saunders.”Nick winced as his fearless wife asked the question and the young woman burst into a fresh flood of tears. “Yes, he told me all about it after the fall,” said Tamsin. “He said she pressured him into it. She was obsessed with him.”“Was the affair over?” asked La Contessa. “Or were they still lovers?”“No, no, it ended after the fall from that jinxed horse Nochance. He promised me that he would never see her again.”“So how do you explain him getting a job in the gardens of ‘Lady’ Arabella’s home?” said Nick, unable to contain himself any longer. La Contessa shot him a withering look as Tamsin descended into a fresh bout of crying.“After the fall Danny really struggled. All he ever wanted was to be a jockey and when he couldn’t ride he went to pieces,” said Tamsin. “I didn’t like it but when she called up and said the job was going I thought it might give him a chance.”“Or her another chance,” said Nick bleakly. “I need to talk to her.”
“I can’t believe it,” said La Contessa, plonking down on the sofa. “You had better make me one of your martinis to help me deal with the shock.”“That does explain a few things,” said Nick over the rattle of ice in the martini shaker. “But it really just increases the list of suspects who may have wanted to kill him.”“‘Lady’ Arabella Saunders having an affair with the late Danny Jones while he was riding as an apprentice for her husband,” said La Contessa. “Shocking.”“Well these things do happen my love,” said Nick consolingly.“No, no darling, you misunderstand,” said La Contessa. “I’m not shocked that she would have an affair. I’m astonished she cared so much that she would throw caution to the wind and display it to the world.”“Vaulting a fence and running on to a race track to be beside your fallen lover is certainly wearing your heart on your sleeve,” said Nick, sipping his martini.. “You thought she was an ice queen with no feelings?”“The only feelings I have ever seen ‘Lady’ Arabella display are for new jewellery and her fake title,” said La Contessa witheringly. “Do you think she and Danny were still lovers?”“Hard to see Ron putting up with him being employed as the Turner Towers gardener if Danny was still enjoying regular gallops with his wife,” said Nick. “But it does give Ron a strong motive to dislike him.”“Perhaps it’s time I had a girls’ chat with Danny’s girlfriend Tamsin Mallory,” said La Contessa.
“Darling, I’m worried about my mother and this beastly bug,” said La Contessa as Nick finished his phone call and stepped back into the winter sun-drenched garden. “I think she should move in with us.”Nick blanched and shuddered. Baxter whimpered and put his paws over his ears. “That saintly woman,” Nick lied. “Of course but I worry about putting her in harm’s way. We are dealing with not one but two killers.”“What do you mean? Two killers?”“Not only are we dealing with the rampant resurgence of the coronavirus like everyone else but we also have the murderer of Danny Jones running around,” said Nick. “And I would hate to expose that dear, lovely woman to any danger.”“Gosh, you’re right darling and so much more thoughtful than me,” said La Contessa as Nick let out a sigh of relief. “So tell me what the newspaper racing editor knew about the love affair Ron Saunders told you to look into.”“Nothing happens in racing that Ray Thomas does not know about,” said Nick, perking up. “He remembered Danny Jones as a promising young apprentice for Saunders a few years back when he had a bad fall.”“Is that why he was working as a gardener?”“Yes. It was a career-ending fall,” said Nick. “Far more telling was the distraught woman who vaulted the fence and ran onto the track to be by his side.”“Oh no, was it … ?”
“You know in Europe they call them Pallazo pants,” said La Contessa, twirling in a brightly coloured pair of loose fitting trousers. “But during COVID lockdown I am calling them Terrazo pants because you can only wear them on the terrace.”“I believe in Australia we call them tracky dacks,” said Nick, shaking a special “investigator’s martini.”“Why do you call it an ‘investigator’s martini’?” asked La Contessa, taking the proffered glass. “Does it have special thought enhancing ingredients?”“After a fashion I suppose it does,” said Nick. “It always prompts me to investigate whether I want another one.”“Well I hope its prompting you to investigate young Danny Jones’s murder,” said La Contessa. “Do you think Ron and Lady Arabella Saunders are involved?”“The fact that he rode for Ron as an apprentice jockey and was killed with the name of one of Ron’s horses pinned to his chest is a lot to put down to coincidence,” said Nick, sipping his martini appreciatively.“Then there is Lady Arabella telling him not to talk about the old history,” said La Contessa. “Before Ron whispered to you to investigate the love affair. What on earth is that all about?”“Whatever it was, it certainly made ‘Lady’ Arabella very hot under the collar,” said Nick, tapping a message into his phone. “And I know just the man to tell us about that.”“Oh, darling you know such interesting people from your detective days,” said La Contessa, as Nick’s phone buzzed into life. “Racing Ray,” said Nick into the phone. “There is something I need to know.”
“Terrible, I can’t believe what happened to Danny Jones,” said horse trainer Ron Saunders shaking his head. “And on his first day here as gardener too.”“So you knew him?” asked Nick from the big white leather sofa in Saunders’ apartment on the fifth floor of Turner Towers.“Yes, he was a jockey. Fantastic talent, rode for me as an apprentice and was coming on with huge promise until …”“I don’t think we need to trouble Nick and La Contessa with all that old history,” said Saunders’ wife “Lady” Arabella, entering the room with a bottle of rosé. “Not too early is it?”“Actually I think it is a bit early,” said La Contessa frostily from the sofa. “I don’t think it is a time for drinking when a young man has been murdered and his partner is still grieving.”“Quite right,” said Nick, who was halfway to his feet to accept a proffered glass of wine. “What’s the old history you don’t want to trouble us with?”“Well, young Danny went a bit haywire until he met Tamsin,” started Ron.“No, I forbid it. You promised me that we would never talk about it again,” interjected “Lady” Arabella, putting her hand to her forehead. “Ronald, I am having one of my turns. I think it is time you both left.”“Perhaps I can show you both out,” said Ron, getting to his feet. At the door he turned his back to his wife and whispered to Nick. “You need to look into the love affair.”
“What do you think of this darling?” asked La Contessa as Nick walked into the garden at the conclusion of his phone call to Detective Inspector Cleaver.“It sounds like a football crowd after the winning goal,” said Nick as she played the sound on her phone. “Why do you ask?”“Well I was thinking what a good idea it was for the football to have taped crowd noise in empty stadiums,” she explained. “So I thought why not have that in real life.”“You mean for all of us?”“Exactly darling,” enthused La Contessa excitedly. “Just imagine having a crowd cheering as you unveiled Rose Turner as the killer.”“Crowds also have a habit of showing their disapproval,” said Nick warily. “Do you have a soundtrack for that?”“Oh yes,” said La Contessa, playing a loud series of boos as Nick started for the martini shaker. “Which should I play for your call with the Detective Inspector?”“Do you have one for thoughtful silence?” asked Nick. “Danny the gardener was stabbed through the heart with a thoroughbred form guide pinned to his chest. A horse was circled and the blade went through it.”“Golly, do we know the horse?”“Yes, Nochance, out of Nohope by Last Out Of The Gate,” said Nick.“Doesn’t sound like a very good pedigree,” observed La Contessa.“Interestingly, it was trained by our old friend Ron Saunders,” said Nick. “I may need to pay him a visit.”
“Darling, I think you should mix me one of those,” said La Contessa, collapsing on to the sofa. “It must be martini o’clock.”“You really were rather marvellous with that poor gardener Danny Jones’ partner,” said Nick, handing her the frosted glass. “Poor Tamsin Mallory was understandably distraught.”“It was awful for her finding her partner with a dagger through the heart,” said La Contessa. “And on his first day working at Turner Towers.”“Hmm, didn’t that strike you as odd?”“Well there have been a lot of murders lately but I am still surprised when a corpse shows up, so yes.”“No, my Napoli nightingale, odd that his partner was with him as he worked?” said Nick. “You don’t come and watch me work.”“Oh, but darling I loved watching you work when you put together those clues to find that Rose Turner killed her identical twin sister Pansy Potter,” said La Contessa. “At least Inspector Cleaver had the cuffs on her when Danny the gardener was being stabbed.”“I still think it is odd someone would want to watch their lover trimming a hedge,” said Nick. “Do you have any leads to the killer,” La Contessa asked.“Well, I am expecting a call from Cleaver about the paper that was pinned to Danny’s chest by the knife,” said Nick. “It was too bloodstained to read but it was clearly a message.”His phone buzzed. “That will be the Detective Inspector now,” he said.
Goodness, what on earth was that?” said La Contessa after another piercing scream tore through the air from somewhere outside. “Darling you should go.”Nick pushed past Detective Inspector Cleaver, who had Rose Turner in handcuffs, and jumped into the lift with Baxter by his side. They descended quickly and at the front of the building saw a young woman kneeling by the privet hedge where a pair of legs were sticking out.“Danny,” wailed the woman. “No, no, no. Not my Danny.”“What has happened here?” asked Nick, hurrying over to find a man in his late twenties laying face up in the garden. Dead.“He must have had an accident. But he was so careful,” said the woman. “He only just started doing the gardens here and was so excited to get the contract. Now look.”Nick did look as Baxter used his nose to nuzzle the woman’s arm aside and push in to offer reassurance as only a dog can in a time of crisis.“Oh no, not another accident,” said La Contessa, bustling out of the building. “Has he been electrocuted by his clippers?”“No, I am afraid not,” said Nick. “It’s his heart.”“Well thank goodness it’s not another murder,” said La Contessa. “What happened to his heart?”“It was stopped rather suddenly by this knife,” said Nick pointing to the haft of a knife sticking from Danny’s chest. “This most certainly was a murder.”
“Golly darling, I think you had better do what she says,” said La Contessa, as the resurrected Rose Turner held her arm and pointed the pistol at her temple.“Don’t try anything silly Mr Moore,” said Rose. “Detective Inspector Cleaver, get over there with the others.”Rose started to back towards the lift to make good her escape. “I cannot believe you killed your own twin sister,” said La Contessa. “For money. ““Shut up,” snarled Rose, reaching for the lift button. At that moment Baxter let out a low growl and then sprang, taking Rose’s wrist in his jaws. The momentum of his lunge spun the killer away from La Contessa and the shot from her pistol fired harmlessly into the ceiling. Baxter pulled Rose to the ground as Nick and Cleaver leapt across the room to subdue her. Within moments Cleaver had snapped on the handcuffs.“Oh Baxter, you are so brave,” cooed La Contessa to the tail wagging beagle. “And you are so clever Nick Moore, working out that Rose Turner was alive and the killer all along. There was me thinking you were drinking too many martinis to get to the bottom of this.”“Speaking of martinis,” said Nick. “I was thinking perhaps we might celebrate.”“That’s a lovely idea,” said La Contessa, taking his arm as Cleaver led Rose towards the lift. “I don’t know what we are going to do with ourselves now we don’t have a mystery to solve.”From outside there was suddenly the most shocking scream.
“You killed Rose Turner,” said Nick, pointing at the killer. “You also put the vials of arsenic in Catherine Turner’s apartment after killing her husband.”“It was you. Every death that followed from throwing that girl off the Turner Towers balcony was to cover your crime.”“It can’t be true,” a shocked La Contessa said. “But it is …”“Her twin sister,” said Nick grimly, looking at Pansy Potter. “But that’s not the full story is it … Rose?”La Contessa gasped. “You mean, Pansy is, is really Rose?”“I am afraid so my Livorno lovely,” said Nick. “The dead girl was Pansy Potter all along. Rose Turner threw her sister off the balcony. Pansy confronted her when she realised Rose intended to kill their father Charles Turner and inherit his fortune.”“That’s awful,” said La Contessa, white with shock. “And as her twin she would still inherit the money.”“Exactly,” said Nick. “She recruited Brice Jauffret to help and killed him when he realised she was really Rose. Then she swapped the supplements her mother Victoria Potter took with every meal for ones laced with nuts when her mother realised which twin she was.”“Which explains why we could not find who laced her spaghetti,” said La Contessa.“And then she shot poor Mr Hu,” said Nick. “You may want to look for that gun, inspector.”“You mean this one,” said Rose Turner, pulling a .22 Beretta from her pocket. She grabbed La Contessa and put the pistol to her head. “Nobody move,” she said.
“This is preposterous, I must protest in the strongest possible terms Detective Inspector,” said Catherine Turner imperiously. “To be accused of killing my husband is intolerable.” “Perhaps we should start with you,” said Nick calmly. “After all it is your husband Charles’s fortune and his decision to invite all of you to live in this apartment block for free that started all this.” “Poppycock,” fired the late billionaire’s spinster sister Alice. “The trouble started when that girl Rose Turner turned up claiming to be his illegitimate daughter and rightful heir.” “Yes, that certainly did create a stir,” said Nick. “Giving every single one of you in the block a motive to get rid of her.”“Oh darling, you are so marvellous when you are being a detective,” swooned La Contessa. “Carry on.”“There were clear indications pointing to many of you being involved,” said Nick. “Such as Dr Emily Chen giving the cause of Charles’s death as a heart attack and ignoring the arsenic trioxide in his blood.” “This is outrageous,” fumed Dr Chen’s new partner, barrister Mark Hutchinson as their cuckolded partners looked on uncomfortably.“Then of course there is Rose Turner’s old boyfriend, you Wayne Durain, who took up with Charles Turner’s mistress Natalia Kowalski remarkably quickly after her death,” said Nick. “Every one of you wanted to see Rose Turner dead. But there is just one killer.” He levelled his finger like a gun. “You.”
“Now that we have got your attention,” said Nick, stepping to the end of the table. “I would like to explain exactly how a killer gets away with cold-blooded murder.”“That’s right darling,” said La Contessa excitedly. “The second I found those tubes of arsenic in Catherine Turner’s apartment I knew she had killed her husband.”“Yes, but …” said Nick.“And then when Brice Jauffret was found battered to death with his hair dryer it was obvious he was working on the drug deal with the missing Arthur Minns.”“Yes, but …” said Nick.“Not to mention killing poor old Mr Hu for informing on the drug racket in the first place.”“Yes, but …” said Nick.“Then there was poor Rose Turner’s mother Victoria Potter who died from anaphylactic shock when someone put nuts in her spaghetti. I have no idea which one of you did that.”“Yes, but …” said Nick.“And then, starting it all, was Rose Turner being tossed off her balcony after splitting up with you, Wayne Durain, just as you started cavorting with you, Natalia Kowalski,” said La Contessa with a flourish of her hand. “What a nest of vipers.“And look at this poor girl,” she said, gesturing to Pansy Potter. “Having to stand here knowing one, or more than one of you, killed her twin sister and her mother.”Detective Inspector Cleaver discreetly cleared his throat and nodded to Nick.“Thank you, my Palermo prosecutor,” said Nick. “Perhaps I can expand a little on that.”
“No darling, I don’t think she should come,” said La Contessa. “It could be dangerous.”“It is my twin sister we are talking about,” said Pansy Potter defiantly. “If you are going to finally confront her killer then I want to be there.” Nick nodded sagely. “Much as it pains me to disagree with you, I agree that Pansy really should be there,” he said. “We can take Baxter for protection.” “Yowf,” said Baxter.“Very well, on your head be it Nick Moore,” said La Contessa, getting up and heading for the gate. “Well come on, the meeting should have started by now so we can go and make our grand entrance.” The four of them crossed the road and headed into Turner Towers, pressing the lift button for Catherine Turner’s apartment on the 11th floor where the meeting was being held. The lift “binged” its arrival and they stepped out into the main room of the apartment where 11 pairs of eyes swivelled to meet them. Charles Turner’s elderly widow was sitting at the head of a long table, minutes in hand, and was the first to speak. “You have no right to be here,” she said. “I disagree,” said Nick firmly. “A serial killer, Rose Turner’s murderer, is in this room and I intend to unmask them.”“I’m not staying around for this,” said Wayne Durain, getting to his feet as the lift bell binged again.“Sit down,” said Detective Inspector Cleaver. “The next person to leave here will be in handcuffs.”
“Oh no, poor Baxter,” cried La Contessa, collapsing into Nick’s outstretched arms. “He saved me. He pushed me clear and now …”A paw scratched at her leg and she absent-mindedly reached down to scratch at a familiar furry head. “Baxter! You survived, oh you clever, wonderful, lucky dog,” said La Contessa, bending down to hug the brave beagle. “Are you hurt?”“Yowf,” said Baxter. “And we are a family again,” smiled Nick. “It looks like Baxter pushed you and rebounded over the hedge and out of harm’s way.”“Poor Georgios,” said La Contessa, looking across at their neighbour who was staring in shock at his flattened new red BMW with half a grand piano sticking through its roof.“I can’t believe it,” he said. “That’s the fourth one gone. First a girl, then a Rolls Royce, then a tree and now a piano. I’m not buying any more new cars. From now on, I take the bus.”“He does have a point,” said La Contessa, taking the lead from Nick who had retrieved it from the wreckage. “We do seem to be having an awful lot of accidents at the moment.”“Well we know the first three were not accidents and were somehow linked to our investigation into Rose Turner’s murder,” said Nick, pulling the canvas strap from the wreckage and examining it. “We are getting closer. The killer took a big risk to try and silence you.”“What do you mean?”“This strap has been deliberately cut,” said Nick.
“Goodness, what on earth is happening?” said La Contessa as the piano delivery man shouted his warning.“I don’t know but I’m not hanging around,” said gym instructor Wayne Durain, hightailing it back into Turner Towers. High above La Contessa the black grand piano was swaying perilously from its two canvas slings suspended beneath the crane arm.“Mariabella, get away from there,” shouted Nick, emerging from the garden gate opposite and starting to run across the road. He was too late, the canvas sling snapped with a startling crack and the piano tipped to its side before slipping out of the harness and hurtling towards the ground. Baxter leapt into the air and landed both paws on La Contessa’s chest, propelling her back into the privet hedge and to safety. The keyboard end of the piano smashed into the ground where she had been standing while the rear half crashed into George Papadakis’s brand new red BMW M3.“La Contessa, are you all right my beauty?” asked Nick, reaching her side and pulling her from the hedge. “That was too close for comfort.”“Oh no, my beautiful new car!” said Georgios Papadakis, emerging from his house and tearing at his grey hair. “It’s gone. It’s new and it’s gone.”“Poor old George, that’s the fourth new car he has lost,” said Nick. “If it had not been for Baxter that would have been you under there.”“Baxter!” cried La Contessa, looking at the beloved beagle’s lead trailing out from beneath the wreckage. “Oh no!”
“MY goodness Georgios, another new car,” said La Contessa, stepping across to Turner Towers with Baxter tugging at his lead. “And it’s the same as the others.”“Isn’t it beautiful,” said their neighbour Georgios Papadakis, pointing to the new red BMW M3 parked on the grass embankment outside the apartment block. “And this time I’m even parking it on the road so nothing can happen.”“I would hate to see it smashed like the other three,” said La Contessa. “What on earth’s going on here?”“Catherine Turner, she is having a grand piano delivered for the strata meeting next week,” said Georgios, as two men in brown overalls attached heavy canvas slings under the black piano on the back of a flatbed truck.“She’s good to go Bruce,” shouted one of the men and the slings went taut as the piano was hoisted by a crane on the back of a truck next to it and lifted towards the 11th floor. At that moment Wayne Durain appeared from the main entrance and La Contessa dashed over to accost him.“Oh no, what do you want?” he said as she bustled over. “I think you joined my gym class under false pretences. Go away.”“Now Wayne, that’s no way to speak to a former client,” said La Contessa. “I just wanted to know when you split up with Rose Turner?”“We had split before she died if that’s what you mean,” said Wayne, stopping suddenly as one of the delivery men yelled: “Look out!”
“Oh, I remember that note we found when I stole, er I mean borrowed, the mail just after Rose died,” said La Contessa. “What did it say again?”“Meet me upstairs at 4. R,” read Nick after pulling the note from the pile gathering dust on the garden table. “Does that look like your sister’s handwriting?”Nick showed the note with its green flowery script to Pansy Potter, who was sitting next to him on the sofa.“Yes it does, as identical twins even our handwriting is virtually the same,” she said. “Who do you think it was for?”“Maybe it was for her boyfriend Wayne Durain?” said La Contessa. “Could it be he went up there and they had a fight?”“She could be quite firey when she was angry,” said Pansy. “What could they have been fighting about?”“Perhaps he was cheating on her with Natalia Kowalski before she died and she found out,” said La Contessa. “A cheating man is enough to make any woman’s blood boil.”“That would put him very neatly in the frame for her murder too,” said Nick.La Contessa scooted to her telescope and levelled it at apartment number four before straightening up and declaring: “They are home — come on let’s go.”“Easy tiger,” said Nick as his wife kicked off her leopard print Ugg boots and pulled on her running shoes. “One theory does not lead straight to the cement motel. You need proof.”“Nonsense, we have the note,” said La Contessa. “Come along Baxter.”
“Oh do stop sulking darling,” La Contessa said. “Just because I said it is international Mai Tai Day.”“I still can’t believe we missed World Martini Day earlier this month,” complained Nick.“Well technically darling you didn’t miss it because you do have a martini every day,” La Contessa replied. “It’s not the same,” said Nick. “And I’m not making up for it with one of those dreadful Mai Tai concoctions either.”“Did someone mention a Mai Tai,” said Pansy Potter, emerging from the bedroom for the first time in days. “I think that might be what I need.”“You are far too young for that kind of thing,” said La Contessa. “I will make you one of my refreshing green juices.”“Sucks to be you,” muttered Nick under his breath.“Certainly darling, one for you too,” said La Contessa.“Tell me Pansy, did your sister Rose ever talk about her boyfriend Wayne Durain?” asked Nick. “Were there any problems?”“Not that she told me,” said Pansy, sitting down on the sofa.“Although we were identical twins we were not really close like that. Why do you ask?”“It’s just that Mr Durain seems to have taken up with Natalia Kowalski awfully quickly after your sister’s death,” said Nick. “Even allowing for the heightened emotions that come with being locked down in the same building for months on end.”“Here you are,” said La Contessa, emerging with two juices. “I think my husband may be onto something.”
“Shall I order Pol Roget or Moet for the champagne darling?” asked La Contessa.“When in doubt, order both,” replied Nick sagely. “The question is why?”“Oh it’s for our New Year’s Eve party tomorrow.”“I’m confused,” said Nick. “That’s a party for the end of the financial year?”“No darling, I’ve decided that 2020 has been long enough already with this beastly virus so I am having an end of year party to farewell it,” explained La Contessa. “Wednesday will be the first of 2020 Redux.”“In that case, definitely order both,” said Nick, settling back onto the sofa with a martini.“Hopefully in my new year we can finally get to the bottom of Rose Turner’s murder,” said La Contessa. “Did you believe Arthur Minns when he said he did not kill Mr Hu?”“Well he certainly seemed genuinely surprised to hear he was dead,” said Nick. “And Cleaver did not seem to have any evidence pointing to Minns involvement.”“Oh dear, I wonder if it is all the same killer. Who on earth could it be?”“Well, someone with motive to get rid of him and strength to drape his body on the Hills Hoist,” said Nick.“Perhaps it is somehow linked to the number 25 that he kept sending us,” said La Contessa. “You know the triad number indicating a traitor or spy.”“That’s it,” said Nick, snapping his fingers and jumping to his feet and almost spilling his martini. “There’s a betrayal here we have been ignoring.”
“Are you sure villains always return to the scene of the crime?” asked La Contessa from her usual post by the telescope under the orange tree. “It’s dark and I’ve been here for hours.”“Absolutely my Rimini resolute,” said Nick, sipping a martini while comfortably splayed on the sofa with Baxter. “Good detective work takes patience and perseverance.”“Oh, I think this may be him,” said La Contessa. “A big black car has just sidled into the shadows.”“What did I tell you?” said Nick, springing to his feet. “Come on Baxter, let’s go and see what dastardly old Arthur Minns is up to.”Nick slipped out of the gate, Baxter hot on his heels, and drifted across the road like a ghost. He avoided the pools of light thrown by the street lamps and came up behind Minns as he was about to open the door to the basement.“Not so fast Minns,” said Nick, grabbing the chauffeur’s arm and jerking it up his back. Minns lashed out with his foot and Baxter attached himself to his ankle with a vice-like grip.“Ow, ow, get that dog off me!” shouted Minns.“Not until you tell me why you killed poor Mr Hu,” said Nick, as La Contessa hurried over. “Oh darling you are so wonderful, you’ve got him,” she said. “You too Baxter, what a good boy.” “You have just enough time to tell us why you killed Mr Hu before Detective Inspector Cleaver arrives,” said Nick.“What? Hu’s dead?” said Minns. “I didn’t kill him.”
“I can’t look,” said La Contessa. “Who is dead?”“Yes, I know darling, Hu is dead,” replied Nick, looking at the body of Hu Phlung Dung spreadeagled atop a Hills hoist at the back of Turner Towers.“I know you know who is dead, I’m asking you to tell me so I don’t have to look,” said La Contessa, her face buried in Nick’s shoulder.“I’m sorry, I told you Hu is dead,” said Nick.“Oh for goodness sake, I’ll look myself,” said La Contessa turning round to look at the body tangled on the washing line. “Oh, Hu is dead.”“That’s what I said, Hu is dead,” said Nick. “It looks like he came to the end of the line.”“Yes, all washed up I am afraid,” said Detective Inspector Cleaver. “He was a useful informant on Arthur Minns and his triad drug smuggling until someone shot him.”“I’m afraid we had him pegged all wrong,” said Nick. “We thought he was a villain, possibly a money launderer, when all along he was trying to warn us.”“Do you think his note with the number 25 on it, the triad code for a traitor, was trying to warn us about Arthur Minns?” asked La Contessa.“Quite possibly,” said Cleaver. “Although the body count here is mounting. First heiress Rose Turner, then her mother Victoria Potter, Baxter’s dognapper Brice Jauffret and now poor old Hu Phlung Dung. We may be looking for more than one killer.”“You may be right Inspector,” said Nick. “The pressing question now is who killed poor Mr Hu?”
“Detective Inspector Cleaver has been very busy,” said La Contessa as they watched several men being led from the basement of Turner Towers in handcuffs. “He must have caught them as they were loading the baby formula tins stuffed with drugs into the van.”“That’s absolutely right,” said Cleaver, lifting the police tape to join Nick and La Contessa on the pavement. “My informant was right on the money.”“You have someone inside Turner Towers?” asked Nick.“Had,” said Cleaver. “He is dead, must have been killed immediately after he called in the tip to me.”“Oh no,” said La Contessa. “Who was he?”But before Cleaver could answer, Nick grabbed the detective’s shoulder. “Where’s Arthur Minns, the chauffeur? Have you arrested him?”Cleaver sadly shook his head. “My informant told me that Minns was the contact for the triads in the drug smuggling ring but when I got here he was nowhere to be found. The Rolls- Royce is missing too.”“Not the most inconspicuous getaway vehicle,” observed La Contessa.“He must have done a runner just after we left with the tin I snatched from the back of the van,” said Nick, ignoring Cleaver’s raised eyebrows. “So who was your informant and where is he now?”“I can take you to see the body for yourselves,” said Cleaver, before adding: “you may want to stay here La Contessa, it’s pretty gruesome.”“Nonsense,” she replied. “What are we waiting for?”
“That looks to be exactly what it says on the tin,” said La Contessa, over Nick’s shoulder as he opened the tin from the van in the Turner Towers basement. “Baby formula.”“Yes, my Imola investigator, but I believe what we seek lies beneath,” said Nick, upturning the contents onto a newspaper.Three sealed plastic bags appeared in the pile of powder. “Golly,” said La Contessa. Nick opened one of the bags and gave it a tiny taste. “Ice,” he said grimly. “Nasty stuff.”“So someone is smuggling ice into China in tins of baby formula,” said La Contessa.“That’s really rather clever because the baby formula is worth a fortune too.”“Exactly,” said Nick. “And not someone, Arthur Minns, Charles Turner’s Rolls-Royce driving chauffeur.”“Do you think that’s what Hu Phlung Dung was trying to tell us?”“Yes, that’s part of his message,” said Nick. “I am afraid we have been guilty of the most dreadful racial stereotyping. Just because there are Triads involved we assumed he was a villain.”“Perhaps you had better get on to Detective Inspector Cleaver before that van disappears,” said La Contessa.At that moment Nick’s telephone buzzed into life with Cleaver’s name on the screen.“Speak of the devil,” Nick said, before listening quietly and hanging up.“You didn’t tell him,” said La Contessa.“I didn’t need to, he is already here. There has been another murder.”
“Hello boys!” purred La Contessa. “I seem to have lost my dog Baxter. He’s handsome and brown and looks like a beagle, have you seen him?”As his wife distracted the men loading the van, Nick dashed to the rear, grabbed a tin and hurtled back into the shadows. At that moment Catherine Turner’s chauffeur Arthur Minns came downstairs.“Is there a problem boys?” he asked. “And what, madam, are you doing down here?”Pansy Potter appeared with Baxter on his lead.“I’ve found him,” she said as Minns went white at the sight of her.“Rose! Oh no, sorry, Pansy. You look so like your sister,” he stumbled. “Why are you here?”“She was helping me look for Baxter,” said La Contessa. “And now she’s found him. Be a good boy and open the gate for us?”“Not so fast,” said Minns suspiciously. “Why do I always feel that there is trouble whenever you and that damn dog are around?”“Oh you mean that time when you missed Baxter and hit poor George Papadakis’ new car with your Rolls Royce?” smiled La Contessa sweetly. “Accidents do happen when you don’t pay attention on the road.”Minns face had turned a volcanic shade of puce and he appeared to be reaching for something in his waistband when Pansy said: “Open the gate now Arthur.”Minns grumbled and complied. As the gate swung open, Nick darted through and was joined by La Contessa, Pansy and Baxter. “Now let’s see what is in this tin,” he said.
“Explain to me again why a delivery of baby formula is significant,” said La Contessa from her familiar post at the telescope under the orange tree. “Apart from it being in the note Hu Phlung Dung dropped after Pansy threw mother’s porcelain chicken at him.”“Well he clearly thought it important enough to try to get word to us about it,” said Nick, who was sitting on the outside sofa with Baxter and Pansy Potter. “So the least we can do is watch and see what happens.” “This is it,” squeaked La Contessa. “A white van has just pulled up and the driver is waiting on the intercom to be allowed to drive into the basement.” “Right, I’m on my way. Wait here,” said Nick, jumping to his feet and zipping through the gate. He shot across the road in time to discreetly follow the van in before the gates closed. “Can you see anything?” said La Contessa, causing him to jump in alarm.“This could be dangerous,” he hissed. “I thought I told you to stay behind with Pansy.”“Oh, she’s here too darling.”“Don’t tell me you brought the dog as well,” said Nick. “Yowf” said Baxter.“For goodness sake, be very quiet and stay behind me,” said Nick. “These are triads.”“Look darling, they are taking the tins of baby formula out of the van and then putting tins that look exactly the same back in,” said La Contessa. “I need to see inside one of those tins,” said Nick. “I need a distraction. Oh no, La Contessa come back …”
“Come on darling, pull,” said La Contessa. “I really want to wear this dress to the races today.”“Perhaps the zipper has rusted through lack of use during the lockdown,” said a red-faced Nick from behind his wife. “Should you try the red one with the elasticated waist.”“Nonsense, pull!” she commanded. Nick gave one more mighty tug which was followed by a loud tearing of fabric as the zip parted from the dress.“Oh dear,” said La Contessa.“All my clothes appear to have shrunk during our time in coronavirus lockdown. Do you think it is because we have been home with the airconditioning running?”“I expect that’s it,” said Nick who was struggling to do up the trousers on his best suit. Finally he managed by pushing his belly up and over the top of his belt.“At least a return to the races gives us some clear head space from trying to solve Rose Turner’s murder.”“My darling, you seem to have put on a little bit of weight,” observed La Contessa as she slid into the elasticated red dress. “Are you going to get that top button done up?”“My pick for Royal Randwick is inspired by Hu Phlung Dung,” said Nick. “He Runs Away.”“You have inspired my selection,” said La Contessa.“My Swashbuckler, in race six at Randwick?”“Few Too Many, in race six at Doomben,” said La Contessa.“However, I am a bit worried about leaving Pansy Potter on her own.” “Baxter will guard her,” said Nick. “What could possibly go wrong?”
“We are assuming that Hu Phlung Dung dropped the tube containing the baby formula invoice by accident when Pansy screamed and threw your mother’s priceless porcelain chicken at him,” said Nick. “Obviously,” said La Contessa. “I must say for a detective you can be quite plodding sometimes.”Pansy Potter, still shaken by events, was sitting on the sofa in the morning sunlight and finally piped up. “It still does not explain why he would seal the ends with dog treats.” “Exactly my point,” said Nick. “What if he was not creeping up to the window to spy on us but was actually looking for Baxter to take the tube.” “You mean,” said La Contessa. “He wanted us to find the note. But why?”“I think the answer to that is here in the delivery date, it’s due to arrive at Turner Towers next Monday.”“Oh, maybe it’s one of those triad things where one gang member turns on another,” said La Contessa. “We have a lot of that kind of thing back home in Italy. I remember my nonno …” “Anyway,” said Nick quickly to change the subject from La Contessa’s grandfather. But it was too late.“I still remember when you put his old World War Two rifle for sale on Gumtree,” she said, her cheeks flushing red with anger.“And said it had never been fired and only dropped once.”“A joke I very much regret,” said Nick. “But I think this note means we have some real detective work to do now.”
“Well what does it say?” La Contessa demanded impatiently. “If Mr Hu dropped it outside the window it could be a clue.”“It’s very odd,” said Nick. “The ends are bunged up with dog treats.”He removed the treats, gave them to Baxter and extricated the rolled piece of paper.“It’s a shipping invoice for baby formula,” said Nick, turning the paper over. “And on the back is the number 25 again — the Hong Kong triad code for a betrayer of secrets.”“Well what on earth does all that mean,” asked La Contessa, who had attached a red rubber resistance band to the door handle and was bending her arms to stretch it. “Come on Pansy, you have a turn.”“What are you doing, my fitness fanatic?” asked Nick. “That door handle looks decidedly shaky.”“There is still a bit of resistance about going to gyms and I need to get into shape to be seen in post-COVID lockdown society,” explained La Contessa. “Anyway, tell us more about the note.”“I don’t understand why he would stuff the ends with dog treats,” said Pansy, as La Contessa continued to puff and strain. Suddenly the door handle broke free with a rendering of wood and the elastic exercise band pinged it over the fence like a catapult. There was a loud crash and then their neighbour George Papadakis shouted: “Oh no! My greenhouse, it’s broken.”“Oh dear,” said La Contessa, looking at Nick who remained engrossed in the note. “What have you found?”
So whose face did you see at the window?” asked La Contessa anxiously as Pansy dried her tears.“And what could have been so frightening to prompt you to throw La Contessa’s porcelain objet d’art chicken through the glass,” asked Nick as Baxter hopped onto the window sill and disappeared outside.“I woke up to see Charles Turner’s old business partner Hu Phlung Dung staring at me through the glass,” said Pansy shakily. “He looked like he was holding a gun.”“Well that would do it,” said La Contessa. “Come into the kitchen and I will make you one of my green juices. It will help knock off all those extra pounds gained in lockdown.”“Not that Pansy is looking a little portly,” added Nick quickly. “In fact I don’t see why either of you need to worry … er, I’ll just go and see what Baxter is barking about.”Minutes later Nick entered the kitchen with Baxter carrying a black plastic tube in his mouth. “Baxter has found what you obviously mistook for the gun,” said Nick, taking the tube from the tail-wagging beagle.“Sorry darling, you’ll have to shout. We can’t hear you because of the blender,” yelled La Contessa, as the device whirled a bright green concoction through its blades.“I SAID THIS IS …”“There’s no need to shout darling,” said La Contessa, turning off the blender. “Look what clever Baxter found, you obviously must have thought that was a gun Pansy.”“Not so obvious is the paper rolled up inside it,” said Nick.
“Pansy, are you ok?” said La Contessa, following Nick and Baxter down the hall and into the front bedroom where a startled Pansy Potter was sitting up in bed with the bedclothes pulled up defensively around her. The window was broken.“What happened?” asked Nick as Baxter jumped onto the bed and started barking at the window.“Watch his paws for broken glass,” warned La Contessa, pulling Pansy into a protective hug.“That’s odd, there isn’t any broken glass,” said Nick, going over to the window and looking out. “It looks like the window was smashed from the inside.”“It was,” said Pansy in a shaky voice. “I woke up to see a face staring in at me from the window so I screamed, grabbed the nearest thing to me and threw it with all my strength.”“Oh no!” said La Contessa, looking frantically at the bedside table. “You didn’t throw the porcelain chicken that was there did you?”Pansy nodded.“Nick Moore, are you laughing? You know that chicken was part of the pair that my mother gave us.”“Heavens no, you know how upset I was when I broke the other one over the head of that intruder to save you,” said Nick, looking at the smashed fowl on the lawn. “Perhaps we could try to glue it back together …”“More to the point I think we need to know who it was that prompted Pansy to throw it in the first place,” said La Contessa rather crossly. “Can you tell us?”
“Look, I found this on the floor of the carport together with a discarded shipping note,” said La Contessa, flourishing a paper mask. “Is Pansy still resting in the spare bedroom?”“I haven’t heard a peep from her, probably exhausted from losing her sister and mother,” said Nick, taking the note. “Now that is interesting — 50 tea chests, shipped at the end of February …”“Yes, I thought it was odd they would want to send tea to China,” said La Contessa. “Don’t they have tea there already?”“ … assuming they weigh 50kg each, that’s two and a half tonnes of extremely rare and valuable personal protection equipment,” said Nick. “In short supply and highly valuable at the start of the coronavirus epidemic.”“You mean someone in Turner Towers was buying up Australian face masks, goggles and sanitiser and sending it to China?” said La Contessa. “Under our very noses? Who would do such a thing?” “Someone with access to medical equipment and supplies,” said Nick. “And an existing supply line into China. Perhaps an underground triad pipeline.”“Well Dr Emily Chen would have the access to medical equipment,” said La Contessa. “Perhaps Charles Turner’s old business partner Hu Phlung Dung would have the supply line.”Suddenly there was a shattering of glass and a loud scream. “Pansy!” said Nick, jumping to his feet as Baxter hurtled ahead of him into the house.
“GOSH, that was most informative,” said La Contessa, bursting into the garden with Baxter hot on her heels. “I can’t believe we managed to get into the basement of Turner Towers in broad daylight.” “Hmmm, what’s that?” said Nick dreamily as he studied his reflection in the window. “Did you say something?”“Nicky! What’s gotten into you,” fired La Contessa. “Oh, you know, I think there’s some life in the old dog yet,” said Nick suavely. “I just popped into the cafe for a coffee and that rather pretty young blonde waitress immediately asked for my name and phone number. Very forward but obviously has great taste.” “Nick, really,” said La Contessa. “She wasn’t trying to pick you up, she has to take down the details of everyone for tracking in case there is a coronavirus case.” “Aha, yes of course,” said Nick, looking away from his crestfallen reflection. “Tell me, how did you get on with your exploratory probe of the basement of Turner Towers.” “That is what I have been trying to tell you,” said La Contessa.“Baxter did a great job of pulling free of his lead and bounding inside as the security gate opened for Catherine Turner’s Rolls Royce.” “He may have been under the impression that the tennis ball that was thrown in there was for him,” said La Contessa. “Naturally I had to go in and get him.”“Naturally,” said Nick.“And you won’t believe what I found,” said La Contessa.
“Triads! Goodness gracious, the neighbourhood is going to the dogs,” said La Contessa. “I think I am going to write to the council and complain.” “I have always admired your capacity for immediate action, ” said Nick, shaking a martini as Baxter plonked onto his blanket. “Detective Inspector Cleaver’s analysis of the note we received was certainly a surprise.” “Baxter does not look remotely tired from that walk darling,” said La Contessa. “How far did you say you took him?”“And who do you think the number 25 on the back of the note meant,” said Nick, smoothly ignoring his wife’s dangerous line of questioning. “The 25 is the Hong Kong triad symbol for a spy, who could that be pointing us towards?” “Well the obvious candidates for membership of a triad gang are Charles Turner’s business partner Hu Phlung Dung or his doctor Emily Chen,” said La Contessa, taking the proffered martini. “I have seen nothing obvious through the telescope.” “Well I imagine any nefarious dealings are conducted well out of sight of prying eyes,” said Nick. “If I was up to something dodgy I would be keeping it underground.” “That’s it!” said La Contessa, jumping to her feet. “The basement. Young Pansy has gone for a lie down. While she rests I think it is up to us to get to the bottom of this dastardly business.” “What are you thinking?” said Nick.“We need to get into the basement of Turner Towers,” said La Contessa. “Come on Baxter!”
“That’s really not good,” Detective Inspector Cleaver said, turning the note over in his hands. “You say this was in a bottle that was thrown into the garden and smashed?”“Yes, scared the life out of poor old Baxter,” said Nick. “Do you have any idea what it means?”They were sitting on the bench round the corner from Nick’s house on their regular nightly “walk” with Baxter and the Detective Inspector’s bulldog Brian. Nick took a sip from his hip flask and waited.“Well, you see this symbol here on the front,” said Cleaver, pointing to a red circle with a dragon inside it. “That’s the symbol for the triads – the Chinese mafia.”“And what about the number 25 on the other side?” asked Nick.“That’s even more worrying. Among the Hong Kong triads the number 25 has come to symbolise a spy, the betrayer of trusts.”“Well who on earth could that mean?” asked Nick. “Perhaps they are unhappy with La Contessa’s regular monitoring of Turner Towers with her telescope.”“No, I don’t think so,” said Cleaver. “This is some kind of warning. Have you noticed any kind of Triad activity in the building opposite? No white vans with drugs leaving in the middle of the night?”“No but there are a couple of Chinese people there – Charles Turner’s old business partner Hu Flung Dung and his doctor Emily Chen. Perhaps it is warning us about them.”“I would be very, very careful,” said Cleaver ominously.“Funnily enough that’s what Mr Hu said,” said Nick.
“Was that a threat?” asked La Contessa. “Mr Hu Phlung Dung seemed very threatening when he told Pansy to be ‘very, very careful’.” “Or was it a warning,” asked Nick, handing Pansy a martini. “Here, this will calm your nerves. You were extremely brave.” “Yuk,” Pansy gasped after sipping the martini. “Do you have any moscato?”“She is only 19 darling,” said La Contessa as Nick grimaced. “I think we may have some left over from an old party.”“Did you get to see their faces as I came in,” asked Pansy. “Did it work? Did any of them give anything away?”“They all seemed completely shocked,” said La Contessa, returning with the drink. “Although Natalia Kowalski recovered the quickest.” “That may just be because she is younger,” said Nick. “Alan Todd was the first to put together the fact that you might be in line to inherit the fortune.” “I don’t care about the fortune, I just want to find out who killed my sister and mother,” said Pansy. “What do we do now?”“We wait,” said Nick. “Introducing you publicly like that will undoubtedly set the killer in motion. Now we watch to see who breaks cover.” “It’s very dangerous,” said La Contessa. “You need to stay here with us until this is all over.” Baxter started barking wildly as a bottle sailed over the back fence and smashed on the pavers. Nick dashed to the gate. “Gone,” he said, before bending down and picking up a piece of paper. “But whoever it was has delivered a note.”
“Ladies and gentlemen may I present Miss Pansy Potter,” announced Nick smoothly to the startled guests. “The late Rose Turner’s identical twin sister.”“Twin sister? Why Rose never told us she had a twin,” billionaire Charles Turner’s widow Catherine said. “This is most irregular.”“So is having sex with your secretary and then not telling anyone about it, I imagine,” La Contessa said, dashing up and taking Pansy’s arm. “Do come and meet everybody.”“I’m so sorry about your sister,” Turner’s former mistress Natalia Kowalski said, who had recovered from the shock remarkably quickly. “And your mother. To lose them both so suddenly must be awful.”Pansy nodded and clung to La Contessa’s arm as Nick carefully guided them around the gathering, watching from behind like a hawk.“Strewth, does that mean you are now the legitimate heiress to old Turner’s loot?” a clearly inebriated Alan Todd asked. “That’ll go down like a turd in a trifle.”“Charmed, I’m sure,” La Contessa said. “And this is Dr Chen and Mr Hutchinson, QC, you may want to ask them some questions about your sister’s affairs.”“I’m sure we would be delighted to help,” Mark Hutchinson said coldly. “Come along, Emily I think this party has run its course.”“They may well be right,” Nick said, observing the residents of Turner Towers abandoning their drinks and fleeing for the lifts. Only one hung back. “Mr Hu, may I introduce you to Miss Pansy Potter, the illegitimate daughter of your late business partner.”The Chinese businessman stepped out of the shadows. “Be very, very careful,” he said.
”I’m not sure I feel entirely comfortable celebrating the Queen’s birthday at a barbecue with a killer,” whispered La Contessa in Nick’s ear. “Particularly when I don’t know which one is the villain.”“Have another shampoo,” said Nick, passing her a glass of champagne and looking around the socially distanced barbecue in the grounds of Turner Towers. “Ron and Lady Saunders, thank you so much for the invitation!” he said as their hosts wandered past.“Mrs Turner, I trust you have recovered from the car crash?” said La Contessa, bowing her head to Charles Turner’s widow, who was gliding through the throng with her spinster sister-in-law Alice. She jabbed a painful elbow into Nick’s side. “Look, there’s Turner’s mistress Natalia Kowalski draped all over Rose Turner’s ex Wayne Durain. Have they no shame?”“It’s hard to tell if anyone here actually has a moral compass,” said Nick as chauffeur Arthur Minns burst out laughing at something golf course designer Alan Todd had said. “I see the broken marriages are keeping to opposite sides of the garden.”Lawyer Mark Hutchinson and Dr Emily Chen were standing arm in arm while their betrayed partners Amanda and Stephen stood glowering at them from the barbecue. “What a motley lot,” said Nick. “They are about to get the shock of their lives.”As he spoke Catherine Turner dropped her wine glass and someone let out a scream.“It can’t be!” gasped Natalia Kowalski. “You’re dead.”
For a change it is Nick who has received a parcel through the post“It’s unusual for you to be getting a parcel,” said La Contessa as a beaming Nick walked into the kitchen with a large box. “Come on, what is it?”“This is my Qantas barbecue deluxe hamper pack. They are keeping their suppliers in business by flogging off the meats that are normally supplied to Qantas First passengers and two bottles of Sangiovese,” said Nick pulling out a brace of T-bones. “Look at these grass-fed beauties.”“Lovely darling, did I mention that I am now following a pescatarian diet to try and get my pre-COVID body back?” said La Contessa, missing Nick’s crestfallen look as she turned back to her iPad. “Did you see Ron and Lady Arabella Saunders post on Facebook?”“No, what’s that old rascal up to now?” asked Nick. “I lost a fortune on the last horse of his that he tipped me on to.”“It’s Lady Arabella’s birthday and they are having a COVID-19 rules-relaxing barbecue for friends and neighbours in the Turner Towers gardens,” said La Contessa. “I feel this is at least the 20th time we have celebrated Arabella’s 40th birthday.”“Perfect, at least that will give me somewhere to take my meat hamper,” said Nick delightedly. “We must all attend. We qualify as neighbours even if my friendship with Ron Saunders became a tad strained after the race fixing scandal.”“What do you mean ‘all attend’?” asked La Contessa. “Are we taking Baxter?”“No, I think this will be the ideal occasion to introduce everyone to Charles Turner’s other heiress, Pansy Potter.”
“NO darling, absolutely not,” said La Contessa while trying on a new pair of winter boots that had arrived through the post. “What do you think of these?”“They are magnificent, a towering monument to the defiance of gravity,” said Nick. “How much did you say they were again?”“I don’t believe I did. But back to the real point, I cannot believe that you, my husband, Baxter’s human guardian, could come up with such a dark, dangerous and frankly Machiavellian plan.”“I’m not sure if that is a compliment or not?” mused Nick over the tinkle of ice dropping into a cocktail shaker. “When in doubt I always hope for the best, so thank you my Venician valkyrie.”“Nicholas Moore, that was not a compliment,” fired La Contessa, stamping her new black boot and coming dangerously close to toppling over in the process. “I cannot believe you want to put that poor girl in harm’s way after all she has been through.”“I concede there are some risks but after we finished talking to Pansy Potter I got the distinct impression that she would be very keen to find out who killed her mother and sister.”“Yes, of course she wants to know who pushed Rose off the roof and spiked Victoria’s spaghetti,” said La Contessa. “However I don’t think she clearly understands that you want to use her as the bait in the trap.”“Unfortunately now the idea has been planted I fear that Pansy may be setting that trap herself whether we like it or not,” said Nick.
“GOLLY, no wonder I thought you were your sister,” said La Contessa, putting down her coffee cup with a crash. “Rose’s identical twin!”“But the question is why did Rose pursue a reconciliation with her father while you chose not to?” asked Nick.“Our mother had kept our father’s identity from us, I think to protect us. Charles Turner may have been a billionaire but I don’t believe he was a very nice man,” Pansy said. “But when Rose turned 18 she insisted on finding out who he was.”“And the fact that your mother conceived you both while she was working as his secretary and he was married did nothing to dissuade her?” asked La Contessa.“No. She was obsessed with meeting him. Once she made contact it was worse. Turner, our father, had no other children. He embraced her.“And suddenly she was living in a brand new penthouse apartment, surrounded by her father’s immediate family and so-called friends. A dream come true,” observed La Contessa.“She did not mention you to Turner?” asked Nick.“No, I begged her not to. I did not want to have anything to do with him or his money. He knew nothing about me before he died and his widow and family don’t either.”“Right now though you could place a legitimate claim as heiress to his enormous fortune,” said Nick.“I don’t want it though,” said Pansy.“A lot of other people do though,” said Nick. “And that puts you in a deal of danger.”
“IT can’t be,” said La Contessa as the priest tossed a handful of earth onto Victoria Potter’s coffin and the young girl turned away. “Rose Turner is dead. We saw her body crash into Georgios Papadakis’s car.”“Come on,” said Nick, taking her hand. “We can’t let her get away.”They raced across the damp grass and reached the black-clad girl as she was turning out of the iron gate.“Excuse me,” said La Contessa breathlessly. “Rose, we need to talk to you.”The girl turned, startled, her cheeks blushing crimson in the winter air. “What do you want? Who are you?” she asked.“Don’t be afraid, we mean you no harm. We are just trying to solve a terrible crime,” said Nick. “A murder.”“Actually, your murder,” said La Contessa.“I think there must be some mistake, my name’s Pansy, Pansy Potter. I have just been at my mother’s funeral.” Her eyes welled up and she pulled a balled-up tissue from her sleeve to dab at her tears.“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said La Contessa, taking the girl’s arm. “Let’s take you over to that cafe and get you a nice cup of coffee.”The girl was too upset to resist and moments later the three were seated at a table.“So Pansy, I take it Rose Turner was your sister then?” asked Nick.“Yes, I lost her after she went looking for our father,” Pansy said in a fresh bout of tears.“Your father?” said an astonished La Contessa.“Yes, we were identical twins.”
“MMM darling, I had rather forgotten how good you look in a suit,” purred La Contessa, running a red painted nail along his lapel. “Easy tiger, we are at a funeral,” Nick replied. “Although I must say you do look rather fetching yourself.”“Do you like my lashes? I have been putting serum on them during lockdown to make them longer.”“I, er, yes. Marvellous,” blustered Nick, looking round for a distraction. “Look they are carrying Victoria Potter’s coffin over to the grave now.” He pointed to the newly dug grave 100 metres from where they stood.“Perhaps they didn’t get the memo that you can have 50 people at a funeral now,” La Contessa said. “There is hardly a soul here.” She jerked as Baxter pulled on the lead. “Are you sure it was a good idea to bring the dog to a cemetery?” she asked.“I thought he would appreciate the airing among all the bones,” said Nick, before pausing mid sentence. “There is someone here to pay her respects after all.” The priest was leading the pall bearers to the grave. Behind them walked a single figure with flowing hair dressed in a long black coat. La Contessa took the opera glasses they normally took to the races and studied the scene before turning white and handing them back to Nick. “You look like you have seen a ghost,” he said.“I think I have,” La Contessa replied. “Rose Turner is attending her mother’s funeral.”
“But darling, how do you know Victoria Potter was murdered?” La Contessa asked for the 15th time since they returned from Luigi’s Italian restaurant.“Hmmm?” said Nick distractedly as he paced the garden with a martini in his hand.“Nicky!” said La Contessa furiously, stamping her foot.“Ah yes,” said Nick. “How long have we been going to Luigi’s?”“It must be 15 years at least.”“And in that time has Carmen ever served up a substandard meal? Have you ever heard of anyone getting food poisoning?”“Never,” said La Contessa, shaking her head.“Exactly. So when Victoria Potter said she was allergic to nuts you can be sure that Carmen would have been fastidious,” said Nick. “Which means …”“That someone added nuts or some kind of nut extract between the kitchen and Luigi delivering it to our table,” said La Contessa. “But who?”“The obvious candidate in terms of ease of doing that would be Luigi,” said Nick, freshening his martini. “But the real question once again is motive.”“Why on earth would Luigi want to kill a woman he has never met before?”“He wouldn’t,” said Nick. “But someone in that restaurant wanted to silence her before she revealed her daughter’s killer.”“With COVID restrictions limiting diners to 10 that means it must have been one of the other seven people in there,” said La Contessa. Nick flourished the page he had torn from the restaurant’s reservations. “One of these people killed Victoria Potter,” he said.
“Anaphylactic shock,” said Nick. “She asked if there were any nuts in the spaghetti.”“Si, I know she did,” said Luigi, wringing his hands in distress. “Carmen she cook it herself, there are definitely no nuts in it.”La Contessa finished giving the address to triple-0 and looked down at the body of Victoria Potter on the floor.“Oh Nicky, this is awful. First her daughter is thrown from the roof of Turner Towers and now she dies in a tragic accident,” she said. “And the poor woman never got to say who she believed killed her daughter.”“Hmmm,” said Nick, placing a napkin over the dead woman’s face. “She did say the killer lived in the apartment block which confirms our theory.”“But how will we ever find them now?”“I have an idea,” said Nick, getting up and walking to the front desk where he suddenly coughed to cover the sound of a page being torn from the reservations book. Blue lights strobed the walls and sirens drowned out Mario Lanza singing O Sole Mio.“Nick Moore, what are you up to?” whispered La Contessa as he returned.“There are seven other people in this restaurant and I want to check out who they are.”“Darling are you saying … ” she said as two paramedics bustled into the restaurant and hurried over to Victoria Potter’s prostrate body.“Yes, I think you had better get back on the phone and call Detective Inspector Cleaver,” Nick replied. “Victoria Potter was murdered.”
“I know who my daughter’s killer is,” Rose Turner’s mother Victoria Potter said just as Luigi arrived at the table with the pasta.“Golly!” gasped La Contessa, almost spilling her Chianti. “Who is it?”“Three spaghetti marinara specials,” said Luigi, placing the steaming plates onto the table. “It is so great to be open and seeing you again.”“It’s great to see you,” said Nick, nodding towards the seven other diners in the COVID restricted room. “Even if it is a little less crowded.”“Si, I think people are fed up with home cooking,” said Luigi. Nick nodded vigorously before catching La Contessa’s frosty glance and quickly shaking his head.“Now, let’s get back to the real business,” said La Contessa as Luigi walked away. “Who do you think killed your daughter?”“I knew she should never have looked her father up,” said Victoria sadly. “I kept his identity secret from her because he was such a bad man. But she was headstrong and insisted on making contact.”“And then Charles Turner welcomed her with open arms and open cheque book,” said Nick.“Yes, she was thrilled at the thought of moving into her own apartment and being close to her father,” said Victoria, twirling the pasta and taking a mouthful. “She could never have known she was moving into the same block as her killer.”“Who is it?” asked La Contessa as Victoria suddenly began to choke, turn purple and clutch at her throat before crashing to the floor. Nick dashed to her side.“She’s dead,” he said.
“How lovely to be going out for dinner,” enthused La Contessa. “It’s been so long I think I’ve forgotten how to do it.”Nick raised his eyebrows and handed his wife a pre-dinner martini. “You do look lovely darling,” he said.“What this old thing?” said La Contessa, giving a twirl of the black and gold Versace dress and quickly yanking off the price tag. “It was just hanging around in the wardrobe begging to be worn.”“You don’t think it might be a little, er, glamorous,” ventured Nick bravely. “Luigi’s is after all just a little local Italian restaurant.”“I know, but it is so long since we have been out and had the chance to dress up,” said La Contessa. “Besides, I wanted to make a good impression on our guest.”“Ah yes, Victoria Potter. Well done for arranging to meet her.”“Thank you darling, she was actually quite charming once I had introduced myself. I suppose we should have guessed someone leaving flowers at the spot where Rose Turner died would turn out to be Rose’s mother.”“It’s the fact that she so readily told you that she had been Charles Turner’s secretary until she fell pregnant with his child that I find so interesting,” said Nick.“Yes, she was very chatty,” said La Contessa. “When I told her you were a detective she was very keen to meet you.”“Exactly,” said Nick. “I think she may know something that will help us catch her daughter’s killer.”
“Look, she’s there again,” said La Contessa from her observation post under the orange tree. “She’s tying flowers to the lamp post where Rose Turner died.”“Mmmm,” said Nick, looking at his phone on the sofa with his headphones in. “Did you say something?”“Yes, I said that woman … Nick what are you doing?”“This new Binge streaming service has started and it’s terrific,” said Nick. “There are some great detective shows I really want to see.”“Really?” said La Contessa, coming over and pulling out his headphones to listen. “Gosh it has Big Little Lies and Game of Thrones. I love that.”“Oh no,” said Nick. “We have to set our priorities firmly in place. I want to watch The Wire and The Sopranos”.“Look it says that you can pay for up to four streams in high definition,” said La Contessa. “It’s very reasonable darling.”“Marvellous, we will take out a subscription,” said Nick, his concentration restored. “Now what were you saying?”“Ah yes,” said La Contessa. “That woman is there again. She comes two or three times a week and brings flowers or just stands where Rose Turner died.”“Right then,” said Nick, getting up and clipping the lead on to an excited, tail-wagging Baxter. “This could be your chance for some real, on the ground detective work.”“Me? But darling I’m just the junior detective, besides I want to stay here and watch Binge.”“No, that’s the chief investigator’s job,” said Nick, handing her the lead. “Go and be your charming self and find out who she is.”
“That’s really highly improper darling,” said La Contessa, frowning as Nick walked back with the foolscap envelope. “One could even say illegal.” “I can completely understand your distaste for such an undertaking and the methods employed by my good friend Spidey to retrieve the contents of the late Charles Turner’s safe,” said Nick, settling down on the sofa and picking up his martini. “In fact I quite understand why you would not want to have anything to do with it. I shall not insult you by offering to tell you its contents.” La Contessa blanched and scooted round to sit next to him. “Well it doesn’t always pay to be too high-minded when doing detective work,” she said. “Let’s see what it says.” Nick pulled the legal document from the envelope, leaving minutes for a strata meeting inside, and smiled in satisfaction. “Just as I thought,” he said. “A new will made out after Rose Turner came forward as his illegitimate daughter.” “Yes, it signs over the top apartment to Rose and more importantly his entire fortune,” said La Contessa. “That must have upset a lot of people.” “Exactly,” said Nick. “Charles Turner invited all his friends to live in the apartments with the promise of a bumper pay day when he popped his clogs.” “Hardly friends,” corrected La Contessa. “Every single one of them took money from him in some way — his mistress, his lawyer, his golf pro.” “They all have a motive to kill his heiress,” said Nick. “At least one of nine apartments opposite is housing a killer.”
“But darling isn’t that a bit of a cliche?” asked La Contessa. “How can you be sure?”“You know I avoid cliches like the plague,” said Nick. “But I find they become cliches because they are so often true.”“So you think the key delivered anonymously to us will unlock a private safe in the late Charles Turner’s bedroom?”“Undoubtedly,” said Nick. Right on cue Baxter jumped to his paws and started barking furiously at the back gate. Nick opened it and let in a slight fellow dressed in black.“Evening Mr Moore, Mrs Moore” he said, nodding to La Contessa. “Do you have the key?”“Ah yes,” said Nick, catching La Contessa’s questioning gaze. “Spidey, I mean Bruce, I’d like to introduce you to my wife La Contessa Mariabella Belluci.”“Delighted to meet you Mr Spiderman,” said La Contessa. “And what do you do?”“Spidey is probably the best cat burglar in Australia,” said Nick.“Well, I was until your husband caught me and put me away,” said Spidey without a trace of malice. “Did the right thing though, kept the money and sent it to my wife and kids.”“Well the drug dealer you robbed did not need the money,” said Nick. “My Nick, you do have the most interesting friends,” said La Contessa. “Will Mrs Spiderman be joining us for dinner?”“Oh no ma’am, I shan’t be stopping,” said Spidey. “I’ll just be hopping over a couple of balconies and retrieving something from a safe for Mr Moore.”
“Do you think the Louis Vuitton Keepall or the July Carry All Weekender?” asked La Contessa.“What’s that ?” asked Nick, through vigorous shakes of the day’s first martini.“I’m packing for when we are allowed to travel again,” she said. “It’s been so long I can’t decide what bag to take let alone what to put in it.”“Well you do look rather fetching in your active wear,” observed Nick. “And it will be easy to pack.”“But I’ve been wearing that for months, I was thinking of a nice …” But her thoughts were interrupted by Baxter leaping off his blanket and yelping towards the front door in a flurry of scrabbling paws.Nick followed him down the hall and moments later returned with another brown envelope, which he quickly tore open.“I think this may be from Mark Hutchinson QC’s scorned wife Amanda,” said Nick, pulling out a stamped legal document. A brass key also tumbled out, bouncing off a startled Baxter’s nose.“Last will and testament of Charles Turner,” read La Contessa over his shoulder. “It looks like he has left an apartment and lots of money to everyone in the apartment block opposite.”“Yes, everyone except his illegitimate daughter Rose Turner,” said Nick. “My guess is that this was the will he drafted before he knew he had a child.”“So what is the key for?” asked La Contessa.“My guess is that this unlocks the safe where his final will is kept,” said Nick.
“What a dreadful night,” said La Contessa. “Who on earth was up chopping and sawing in the wee small hours?”“Yet you look as fresh as a mountain rose,” said Nick, having just popped out to pick up his daily newspaper. A gust of wind blew autumn leaves into the garden from the tree outside. La Contessa shivered.“That tree blocks all our winter sunlight,” she complained as a familiar voice called to them from the road.“Look, isn’t she a beauty,” said their neighbour Georgios Papadakis, pointing to a brand new red BMW M3 parked outside their gate. “I’ll park on this side of the road this time.”“Yes, third time lucky,” said Nick, recalling that Georgios’ previous two new BMWs had been destroyed by Rose Turner’s falling body and a deliberate collision with Charles Turner’s Rolls-Royce.At that moment another gust of wind caught the giant tree, which creaked ominously. Nick grabbed La Contessa and pushed her and Georgios back against the wall as the tree groaned and came crashing down onto the car, flattening it completely.“Oh no, my car,” cried Georgios, his hands tearing at his grey hair. “It’s new and it’s gone again.”Nick pulled La Contessa clear of the branches and brushed her off. “Well I don’t think we will be having any more problems with leaves and blocked sunlight,” she laughed shakily.“No, but whoever was sawing in the night clearly intended that tree for us,” said Nick. “Rose Turner’s killers are desperate to stop us finding the truth.”
“Gosh darling, how exciting!” enthused La Contessa as Nick returned from the letterbox with the package in his hand.“I’m pretty certain this will be the fruits of our labours,” said Nick. “A revenge package from one of the cuckolded partners of Dr Emily Chen or Mark Hutchinson QC.”Nick ripped open the brown envelope and pulled out a copy of a death certificate with Charles Turner’s name on it. “It says Charles Turner died from a myocardial infarction,” La Contessa read over his shoulder. “That’s basically a heart attack isn’t it darling?”“Mmmmmm,” said Nick, who was thoroughly engrossed in a second highly complex looking document from the envelope.“What is it with men, completely incapable of multi-tasking,” huffed La Contessa, who had meanwhile managed to tie a tartan bow tie onto Baxter. “What are you reading?”“Mmm, what’s that my Venetian valentine?” said Nick distractedly. La Contessa stamped her foot and, aware of the early warning signal, Nick snapped back to attention.“This is the result of the blood test run just before Charles Turner died. Clearly he had been feeling sick, which is not surprising given the levels of arsenic trioxide in his blood,” said Nick.“Darling, you were right he was being poisoned with arsenic,” gasped La Contessa. “Who could have done it?”“The other question,” said Nick. “Is why would his doctor Emily Chen ignore that and sign a death certificate giving a heart attack as the cause of death?”
“Darling I think we have played a part in our first covidivorce,” said La Contessa from her familiar position at the telescope under the orange tree.“Unsurprising given that Dr Chen and Mr Hutchinson QC were romping like rabbits behind their partners backs,” observed Nick from the sofa.“But who would have thought it would end like this,” said La Contessa. “Dr Chen and Mr Hutchinson have moved in together in the Chen’s apartment.”“Yes, well despite the easing of restrictions we are still in lockdown and not able to really start jumping around all over the place,” said Nick.“Of course darling,” said La Contessa. “But whoever would have thought their spouses, Amanda and Stephen, would have moved in platonically together in the apartment above?”“Very practical,” said Nick. “They are dog walking companions.”“And the dogs are snuggled up there on the same blanket,” said La Contessa. “But I still can’t see how telling them that they were being cheated on will help us smoke out Rose Turner’s killer.”“Well my Imperian innocent, my hunch is that Amanda Hutchinson and Stephen Chen were only in Turner Towers through marriage and may know nothing of the murder,” said Nick. “Now they may want some revenge.”At that moment Baxter leapt from his blanket and, barking furiously, pelted into the house.“I believe that heralds someone delivering a letter,” said Nick. “Never underestimate the wrath of a partner scorned.”
“What on earth’s the matter?” asked Nick as he came back through the gate with Baxter to find La Contessa wringing a tissue between her fingers.“I don’t think I like being a detective anymore darling,” she said through tears. “I don’t like that you had to tell those two people their partners were cheating on them.”“I know,” said Nick, putting a comforting arm around her. “But, I can assure you that Amanda and Stephen were both very grateful I interrupted their dog walk to tell them what their spouses were up to back in Turner Towers.”“Really?” said La Contessa, perking up. “Did they rush back to confront their partners?”“At speed,” said Nick. “To catch them in the act.”“Gosh,” said La Contessa. “I wonder if we can see that through the telescope?” She was already off the sofa and at the telescope under the orange tree before Nick could answer.“Oh yes!” she exclaimed. “Amanda Hutchinson appears to be throwing Mark’s shirts off the balcony. It looks like he’s begging her not to throw over his barrister’s gown and wig … too late.”“And how is Dr Emily Chen explaining her philandering to her husband?” asked Nick. “It looks like she is trying to explain while Stephen is packing,” said La Contessa. “She’d have had more success if she’d put on a few more clothes.”“Excellent,” said Nick, heading for the fridge to make a celebratory martini. “This is exactly the disruption we need to smoke out Rose Turner’s killer.”
“Darling, it’s so rude. There are cars on the road clogging our thoroughfares,” La Contessa said. “Now the coronavirus restrictions are easing, pesky people are coming out and getting in my way.”“There are certainly a few things we are going to miss about this lockdown together,” said Nick, who was standing by the back gate with Baxter already on his lead.“Yes,” La Contessa agreed. “The crisp clear quality of the air, the strange quiet in the mornings.”“The homemade martinis,” Nick continued wistfully.“Trust you to think of that,” La Contessa said. “And why are you hovering by the gate so furtively?”“I’m waiting for the partners of Turner’s lawyer Mark Hutchinson and doctor Emily Chen to come past walking their dogs.”“Oh really? What are you up to Nick Moore?”“Well, I am going to bump into them and break the news that their partners are having an affair.”La Contessa gasped. “But Nick, you will ruin their lives. They have no idea that we have spotted their spouses canoodling on the balcony the second their backs are turned.”“I know,” Nick said. “But sometimes detective work is a dirty business. If I break the news to them and offer proof, like the pictures I took yesterday with my telephoto lens, they might be prompted into seeking revenge.”“Gosh darling, how Machiavellian you are. What do …” but La Contessa’s question was cut off as Nick opened the gate. “Here they come,” he said.
“Well the widow Turner is safely tucked up in her apartment,” said La Contessa, walking back through the garden gate to find Nick and Detective Inspector Cleaver chatting over a drink.“How was she?” asked Nick. “Not unlike your martinis, badly shaken and unduly stirred,” said La Contessa. “But so dazed she did not notice my rummaging through her cupboards in the pretence of looking for brandy and finding this.”“Good work darling!” said Nick as La Contessa flourished an empty test tube identical to the one Baxter had retrieved from the mystery man attempting to poison their wine.“That clearly puts Catherine Turner in the frame for poisoning her husband and getting someone to try the same thing on us,” said Nick triumphantly.“Hmmm,” Cleaver demurred. “But it is stolen evidence and far from conclusive. Not only that, I think there is another neighbour who looks very dodgy indeed.”“Who?” asked La Contessa.“Georgios Pappadakis. There is clearly something wrong with someone who has claimed full insurance on two brand new BMWs in a matter of weeks.”“Rather than worrying about old George, Detective Inspector, I think you need to be focusing on the death of Charles Turner which I suspect was from arsenic not the coronavirus,” said Nick.“I’m going to need something more than a hunch to investigate that can of worms,” said Cleaver, sipping his martini. Nick’s brow furrowed in concentration. “I think I may just have the way to get you the evidence you need.”
“Isn’t she beautiful?” said Georgios Papadakis, gesturing to the brand new red BMW M3 parked outside Turner Towers.“Lovely,” said Nick. “Aren’t you superstitious, parking it in exactly the same spot where that poor girl fell and crashed through the roof?”“You know, lightning doesn’t strike twice,” said Georgios. Just then the Rolls-Royce carrying Turner’s widow Catherine turned onto the street with chauffeur Arthur Minns at the wheel.“Baxter!” cried La Contessa from the pavement beside Nick as the beagle shot out of the unfastened gate and bolted across the road towards them. The Rolls swerved, Nick pushed La Contessa and Georgios to safety just before it hit the BMW and pushed it into a street light.“Baxter, you’re safe,” said La Contessa, hugging the hound as she emerged from the bushes where she had been shoved.“Oh no, my car,” cried Georgios. “It’s new and it’s gone again.”Nick dashed over to the Rolls which had so many airbags inflated inside it looked like a packet of marshmallows. No one was hurt.“Naughty Baxter, look what happened when they tried to avoid you,” La Contessa scolded the dog, who wagged his tail.“Why don’t you help Catherine up to her apartment,” said Nick. “And have a look around while you are there.”La Contessa picked up the steely tone to Nick’s voice and asked: “What is it darling?”“They didn’t swerve to avoid Baxter,” said Nick. “They were trying to hit him.”
“What a weekend,” said Nick from his position on the garden sofa. “I cannot believe we had to queue for 40 minutes to get into Bunnings just to buy stuff to do more work. Oh, darling, you’ve missed a bit.”La Contessa, dressed in one of Nick’s now paint spattered old shirts, followed where he was pointing and applied the roller. “Thank you. While you have been hard at it there on the sofa have you had any more thoughts on Charles Turner’s arsenic poisoning?”“Funnily enough I have,” said Nick, putting down his copy of Hibernation and picking up his martini. “It all links in to our friend in apartment number seven, Mr Hu Phlung Dung.”“Well we have never seen him,” said La Contessa, continuing to haphazardly roller paint onto the fence. “Do you think it’s because he is an albino and hiding from the sun?”“Or something more sinister,” said Nick. “I checked him out and he was Turner’s business partner for many years in China. Until Turner suddenly had to sell his assets to Mr Dung and get out of the country.”“Bribery?” asked La Contessa.“Yes, the bribes were too small. Mr Hu is based out of Wuhan and arrived before the world went into lockdown. It was widely assumed he had given Turner coronavirus.”“But you don’t think he did?” said La Contessa. “Because no one else in Turner Towers got it.”“Exactly. I think somebody close to Turner poisoned him with arsenic.”“The same person who tried to poison us,” said La Contessa.
“Come on darling, just tug the zipper a little harder,” La Contessa said, holding her breath as Nick wrestled with the lining of her red satin gown.“Why on Earth do you have to wear this to walk Baxter?” Nick asked as the zipper finally ground into place.“Gowns and hounds darling, it’s the new isolation thing. Dress up to walk your dog. You should wear your dinner suit.”“And pick up his poops on a silver platter — I’ll look like Little Lord Baxter’s butler. No thanks,” Nick said. “Although I could wear it to visit your mother tomorrow.”“You still haven’t told me who the second murder victim is,” La Contessa said, clipping Baxter’s lead on. “First someone tries to poison our wine with arsenic and now you go around keeping secrets.”“He’s not the second murder victim, he is the first murder victim,” Nick said, dragging out the suspense. La Contessa stamped her foot in frustration.“Nicky!”“OK, I believe our billionaire Charles Turner was murdered before his illegitimate daughter and heiress Rose was pushed off the top of the building.”“No, that can’t be right,” La Contessa said. “Wasn’t he one of the first victims of the coronavirus?”“Yes,” said Nick. “The symptoms he succumbed to included sore throat, cramps, nausea, diarrhoea, all the things we expect from COVID-19.”“So how does that tally with your theory he was murdered?”“Well, they are also the exact same symptoms that come with arsenic poisoning.”Don’t miss Monday’s episode by Matthew Benns.
“Have you downloaded the Government’s COVIDSafe app darling?” asked La Contessa. “If someone is trying to kill us I want to be able to find you.” “I don’t think it works like that,” said Nick before adding “thank goodness” under his breath. “But why would someone want to kill us and, more to the point, spoil a perfectly good bottle of shiraz with some beastly old arsenic?” asked La Contessa. “Unsurprisingly, I have been giving that some considerable thought since Baxter gave chase to the poisoner,” said Nick. Baxter’s tail thumped at the sound of his name. “I think the poisoner may be the same as the molotov cocktail thrower who torched Baxter’s kennel. But he is just one of the henchmen. The real brains behind this is someone with a bit more subtlety.” “If you ask me, poisoning your neighbour is not very subtle,” said La Contessa, throwing an angry glance at Turner Towers. “I just want to find whoever it is and give poor Rose Turner some justice.” Nick nodded. “If only I had a martini in my hand I think I would have the answer.” La Contessa harrumphed at that but nonetheless set about producing the magical, thought-producing elixir. “Perfect,” said Nick appreciatively, after taking a sip. This poisoning attempt tells me that we have not one but two murder victims.” “Another victim!” exploded La Contessa. “Tell me who?”
“Baxter, whatever is the matter?” said La Contessa as the furious beagle alternated between barking and growling at the garden gate. “Your mother’s in lockdown so I expect it’s the wine delivery from Vinomofo,” said Nick, opening the gate to let Baxter go hurtling out. A black clad figure took flight along the pavement with Baxter hot on his heels. “Looks like someone was desperate for a drink,” said Nick, carrying in the box which had been opened and had one bottle uncapped and partly empty. “Gosh, I know times are tough but if anyone is that desperate they just need to knock on the gate and we could whip them up a martini,” said La Contessa as Baxter proudly padded back through the gate. “Good boy killer,” said Nick. “What’s that you’ve got in your mouth?” He took what appeared to be an empty plastic test tube from the dog and patted his head.“What is it darling?” asked La Contessa, screwing the cap back on the open wine.“You may want to throw that one away,” said Nick, sniffing the empty test tube. “Just as I thought, no odour at all. It’s old school, but effective.” “What on earth are you talking about?”“The traces of white powder in this tube are arsenic trioxide, no taste at all, especially when poured into a bottle of McLaren Vale shiraz.” “Arsenic? You mean that Baxter caught someone putting arsenic in our wine delivery?“I’m afraid so Mariabella – someone is trying to kill us.”
“Darling, what on earth’s the matter,” asked La Contessa in alarm. “Do you have the Wuhan wobblies?” Nick remained on the sofa and groaned, holding his stomach.“I had a few martinis after you went to bed and then ate some of that hummus you had in the fridge,” said Nick.“I feel terrible.”“No wonder, that’s my yeast starter for homemade sourdough bread. You’ve got a yeast injection,” La Contessa said. “Making your own bread is the big thing in isolation.”“My stomach is the biggest thing in isolation round here,” said Nick, rolling onto his back.“Oh, it is rather … bulbous,” said La Contessa.“I hope you didn’t eat all of the yeast, it takes time to get the starter working.”“Your concern is touching,” said Nick. “At least while I have been lying here staring at Turner Towers a thought struck me.”“A thought!” said La Contessa. Nick carried on. “You know, we have never seen or heard from anyone in apartment number seven.”“You are right darling,” said La Contessa, ducking back to the telescope concealed under the orange tree.“There is a shadowy figure moving around in there but whoever it is never comes out onto the balcony.”Nick reached across to the pile of stolen letters and tore one open. “It’s a letter asking Mr Dung to attend a skin clinic,” said Nick.“I think our mystery man is a Chinese albino.”
“Missing! What do you mean he is missing?” demanded La Contessa. “That horrible little man was our best lead in hunting down Rose Turner’s killer.”“I know my fantastic Firenze fireball, but when I went to his salon the girl behind the counter said he had not turned up for work and they could not raise him on the phone.”“Have you spoken to Cleaver?”“Yes, the detective inspector has made a couple of discreet inquiries on our behalf. It seems Monsieur Jauffret’s phone is in his apartment, which is empty, and his car is still in the carport.”“You mean Baxter’s dognapper has simply vanished into thin air?”“I am afraid so, sadly a case of Frog-gone it,” said Nick. “And with him our best chance of finding out who ordered Baxter’s dognapping and the murder.”“Oh dear,” said La Contessa, sinking onto the sofa and rubbing her head. “I’m not sure Cleaver and his wife were the best people to celebrate the easing of social distancing with.”Nick’s tired gaze rested on the large collection of empty champagne bottles. “Something Cleaver said last night did tally up with the clue left by Brice Jauffret’s disappearance,” he said. “That there is always a mastermind behind really big crimes and that they sometimes leave clues because they are being too careful.”“Ah yes,” said La Contessa, perking up. “Monsieur Jauffret would never have gone off on his own during a pandemic when borders are closed and there is no where to go.”“Exactly. Which tells us that we are getting closer to the killer,” said Nick.
“And this one too,” said La Contessa, adding another package to the pile Nick was struggling to balance.“What I don’t understand is why you need to order so many outfits only to send them all back?” said Nick from behind the mountain of resealed parcels.“Darling I wanted to be sure to be looking my best as we hunted for clues to Rose Turner’s murder during the Zoom wedding.”The pile of packages toppled to the floor with a crash that sent Baxter flying into the air in alarm from his blanket.“Poor Baxter is a nervous wreck since that awful French hair stylist dognapped him,” said La Contessa. “Why on earth did he do it?”“I think he may have been instructed to take him and was going to do something terrible to poor Baxter as a warning to us to back off,” said Nick.“You were so marvellous in getting him back darling,” purred La Contessa, running her hands through Nick’s hair.“That’s a very good point my Modena Muse,” said Nick suddenly. “Our dog napping hair stylist Brice Jauffret is the best lead we have to finding out who is orchestrating the efforts to stymie our investigation.”“What are you thinking?” asked La Contessa, picking up the fallen packages and stacking them in Nick’s arms.“I think it’s time I went out to pay a visit to one of our essential service providers, Monsieur Jauffret, and got myself a haircut,” said Nick.
The champagne cork popped and Nick brought two freshly poured flutes over to La Contessa who was sitting in front of the laptop in a new Steven Khalil dress.“Darling, there are pages and pages of people Zoomed into this wedding,” said La Contessa. “And they all seem to be trying to speak at once.”“Have you found all the people we know live in the apartment block opposite?” asked Nick.“Yes, look here is the mistress, the widow, the cheating lawyer who keeps trying to make signals to his lover the doctor …”“Stop!” said Nick urgently. “Go back a page. Look, there in the background.”“It’s Baxter!” cried La Contessa. “It says ‘apartment six’ on the name thingy. Do you think?”Nick was already flicking through the stolen mail for apartment six. “Stylist Brice Jauffret, that looks like our boy,” said Nick, picking up the empty pizza box from the night before and striding out of the gate.La Contessa watched as Baxter started barking in the apartment and the French hair stylist got up to answer the door. The sound was drowned out by the wedding but she saw a familiar pizza box appear in the doorway and then a fist sent Monsieur Jauffret flying across the room with a bloody nose.“Baxter,” cried La Contessa after Nick reappeared with him minutes later. “Our family is reunited again.”Wagging his tail, Baxter eventually extricated himself from the hugs and kisses and retreated to his blanket. “What a relief, now I can really concentrate on these wedding guests,” said La Contessa, moving closer to the screen.
“Darling, I was just talking to Emily in Queensland and she is allowed to go shopping again. “I am almost glad we can’t, I don’t know how I could shop with poor Baxter missing,” said La Contessa as the doorbell rang.Nick staggered back with a large stack of boxes from The Iconic which he added to the pile that had arrived earlier from other stores.“I can see your dilemma,” he observed. “What exactly is in all these packages?”“Wedding outfits, silly. We are going to Arabella Saunders’ wedding tomorrow to sniff around for clues to Rose Turner’s murder,” said La Contessa.“It’s a Zoom wedding,” said Nick. “And what’s more you don’t know anyone there so you could easily wear one of the many dresses you already have in the wardrobe.”La Contessa looked perplexed. “Sometimes darling I can see you speaking but the words just don’t make any sense. “Besides, I needed to take my mind off poor missing Baxter.“Our loveable little Beagle is not missing – he has been dognapped by some dastardly villain,” said Nick.At this, La Contessa let out a wail and dashed into the house, before returning to collapse sobbing into Nick’s arms.“When you said that, I thought of that scene with the horse’s head in The Godfather and had to quickly check the bed,” she cried.“Oh no,” said Nick. “Baxter?”“No, he wasn’t there,” she replied as an ashen-faced Nick sat down with a bump.“But Nicky I want you to employ all your detective skills and get our boy home.”
“Gosh, did you hear the noise the garbage collectors made in the early hours of the morning?” said La Contessa. “It’s like closing time at the pub right along the street.”“I heard the shout from the bin man outside our gate,” said Nick.“I think he threw his back out trying to lift our yellow bin,” said La Contessa. “It’s ridiculous to suggest drinking has gone up just because bottle shops are selling more.”“Exactly! I have not been to the pub or in fact anywhere at all in weeks. My drinking is sinking.”“Quite,” said La Contessa dubiously. “Have you seen Baxter, I can’t find him anywhere and I think it’s time for you boys to go for a walk. Baxter!”She headed off into the house and Nick took the opportunity to finish mixing his pre-walk martini as she called out the dog’s name. Moments later she was back.“I can’t find him anywhere. It’s not like him to wander off.”Nick sprang to his feet and quickly checked the garden gate, which was firmly shut. Baxter’s blanket was balled on the floor and his water bowl was overturned. Bending down, Nick saw scratch marks in the paving.“First his kennel is set on fire and now he goes missing. Why would he go missing?” asked La Contessa, bursting into tears.“I’m afraid our questions about the murder of young Rose means someone from Turner Towers has decided to send us another warning,” said Nick. “Baxter has been dognapped.”
“At least I don’t have FOMO any more,” La Contessa said, walking into the garden. “Because no one else is doing anything.”Nick looked up from the documents he had salvaged from the clean-up pile.“Look at this, a letter from Charles Turner to his old golfing buddy Alan ‘The Elephant Whale’ Todd.”“Why do they call him the Elephant Whale?” asked La Contessa. “Because he is no Greg Norman,” said Nick.“Norman is The Shark because he is a killer on the course, portly Alan Todd was just on the course.”La Contessa took the letter and started reading: “Dear Alan, I am delighted you have accepted my gift of an apartment in Turner Towers. The only condition is that you live in it for a year. Perhaps I am getting sentimental, but I have decided to gather everyone I love around me in one place.”“That sounds absolutely hideous,” said Nick.“I don’t know,” said La Contessa. wistfully. “I have always thought it would be nice to have my mother here with us.” Nick shuddered.“At least it explains why every single person we look at is closely linked to Charles Turner.”“Yes, and what a beastly bunch – especially his lawyer Mark Hutchinson having an affair with his doctor Emily Chen, I actually feel sorry for poor Rose Turner having to move in with that lot,” said La Contessa.“It certainly gives us a long list of suspects for who pushed her off the top of the building,” said Nick.
“Have you seen my old Corona typewriter?” Nick asked as La Contessa staggered past him carrying another pile of boxes.“That old thing, I’ve put it out on the clean up.”“What!” shouted Nick in alarm, jolting to his feet. “It’s worth a fortune.”“That dusty old thing?” said La Contessa. “Marie Kondo says that if an item does not bring you joy then it has to go.”“But it brought me joy,” said Nick hurrying through the gate as La Contessa looked at him in bewilderment.Some time later Nick poked his head back through the gate and, seeing the coast was clear, carried his typewriter back in and hid it in the shed. He went back outside and was carrying in a set of golf clubs and a portable A to Z filing cabinet as La Contessa emerged from the house. “Darling, what are you doing?” she asked.“I saw these on the clean up outside Turner Towers and they gave me joy so I brought them in. We’ve got so much space now there will be no problem storing them.” La Contessa sank to the garden sofa in despair.“Look, they are monogrammed.” said Nick.“Yes, AT, not NM,” she sighed.“Exactly – AT for Alan ‘The Elephant Whale’ Todd.”“You mean the famous golfer who designed all of Turner’s golf courses?” said La Contessa sitting up suddenly.“And this must be his old filing cabinet,” said Nick.“Now that really is treasure,” said La Contessa.
“Exhale cat, inhale cow. Exhale cat, inhale cow.” Nick wandered into the garden to the sight of La Contessa in a pink leotard as a bemused Baxter looked on. “Marvellous darling,” he observed.“I’m doing my pilates class online,” La Contessa said before collapsing onto her yoga mat. “I want my body to look so young that if they put me on a ventilator they will assume my age has been noted incorrectly and not turn it off.”Nick wisely chose to ignore that and instead busied himself looking through his wife’s telescope at the apartment opposite. “What hay hay,” he said. “No wonder you spend so much time looking through this thing. There is a bit of canoodling happening on apartment eight’s balcony.”“That can’t be right,” La Contessa said, bundling him out of the way. “Those two never go near each other. Oh Nick, what have you done?”Nick’s eyebrows shot up. “What have I done?”“Well, the husband from apartment number nine appears to be downstairs kissing the wife from apartment number eight,” La Contessa said. Nick peered over the wall. “While their respective partners appear to be out innocently walking their dogs,” he said. He consulted the stolen letters: “It seems Charles Turner’s young gun lawyer Mark Hutchinson is cheating on his wife Amanda with Turner’s doctor Emily Chen behind her husband Stephen’s back.”“Not so much Love Island,” observed La Contessa. “More like Tawdry Towers.”
“That was very moving darling,” said La Contessa as they stepped back into the garden from observing the ANZAC Day Dawn Service on the doorstep.“Well I have never missed a Dawn Service yet and the point is to honour our brave men and women no matter what,” said Nick. “When they were called up they had to make real sacrifices, we are doing our bit by simply sitting on the couch.”“You have risen to the challenge rather marvellously though,” observed La Contessa dryly.“Yes, my grandfather wore a slouch hat while I merely slouched,” said Nick. “But I have managed to do one thing. Turner’s racing manager Ron Saunders has secured us an invite to his daughter’s Zoom wedding.”“Gosh, that was marvellous darling. He must have owed you a very big favour,” said La Contessa. “Wasn’t there some scandal over a horse you investigated?”Nick shifted uncomfortably. “What an amazing memory you have. Yes, the Doppelganger affair was the Fine Cotton of our generation,” he said. “Two almost identical horses, one slow and one lightening fast. Saunders was swapping the quick one in on the big races and making a killing.”“I seem to remember you making a lot of money on that horse before you led the investigation,” said La Contessa. “I’m surprised he did not go to jail.”“Ah yes, well, er,” stumbled Nick before recovering. “The real surprise was that Charles Turner did not sack Saunders but kept him on as racing manager. It showed the billionaire was no angel, at least when it came to the racing game.”
“Look at that, my new creation,” said Nick, holding up the glass to La Contessa as she came back into the garden.“How is it different from any other martini?” she asked.“I poured the vodka with my left hand,” said Nick. “I think I will call it the ‘Quarantini’.”“It looks lonely, perhaps you could make it a friend for me,” said La Contessa. “So, I dropped off my lasagne to Alice Turner.”“How was our dead billionaire’s sister?” asked Nick. “Grateful for your generous gesture?”“Not exactly, she seemed rather grumpy about it really. Not what I expected from a woman so renowned for her philanthropy and good works.”“Maybe this coronavirus isolation is getting to her. Did she have very much to say?”“The only thing of interest was someone’s wedding – it’s being held on Zoom and she had no idea what that was.”“Whose wedding?” asked Nick, handing over the freshly shaken martini.“The daughter of Lady Arabella Saunders apparently.”Nick jolted so suddenly the liquid sloshed from the glass. He stepped over to the table and the pile of stolen letters from Turner Towers. He held one up triumphantly. “Ron and Lady Arabella Saunders, Charles Turner’s old racing manager. Apartment number five.”“Wasn’t there something very dodgy about him? asked La Contessa.“Yes, very dodgy,” said Nick. “Perhaps I can get us invited to that Zoom wedding.”
“Beep, beep, beep,” the wail of the smoke alarm disturbed Nick’s pre-dinner martini and was rapidly followed by the appearance of La Contessa into the garden carrying a smoking cooking tin. She tipped the smouldering contents into Baxter’s food bowl. “Those were HiberNation’s raspberry and hazelnut brownies,” wailed La Contessa flinging herself onto the sofa. “I’m a failure. A terrible cook.” “Nonsense, my Florentine fireball, you just need to stick to what you are good at,” said Nick as La Contessa perked up a little. “Why you are the princess of pasta, the temptress of tortellini, the goddess of gnocchi.” “The G on gnocchi is silent,” said La Contessa, apparently now fully recovered from her setback. “Anyway, I was thinking about how we need to drop off food supplies to the elderly during the coronavirus crisis. I thought my lasagne might be just the ticket for an elderly lady stuck in an apartment.” “Ah yes,” said Nick catching on. “A pensioner not unlike Alice Turner, billionaire Charles Turner’s spinster sister, who appears to never leave apartment 10 in the block opposite.” “Yes. She has always been the conscience of the Turner empire. I hate to think of her living near horrible people like those two who broke in here, I thought a lasagne might perk her up.” “And give you the chance to snoop around Turner towers,” said Nick. “That’s a great idea. But one thing darling – make sure you make enough lasagne for us as well.”
“Darling I can’t believe you are still trying to convince me that there were two masked men here last night,” said La Contessa, towelling herself down after her morning video workout with Wayne Durain from the apartments opposite.“My disbelieving Dolomite Duchess, it is all true,” protested Nick. “I smacked one with your mother’s awf … adorable porcelain chicken and Baxter bit the other.”“I think you must have had one martini too many and are feeling guilty for breaking Mama’s priceless objet d’art.”Nick attempted to smother a startled cough and his eye caught the laptop screen, frozen on a full body shot of Wayne Durain farewelling his fitness class.“Not only were there two men here, I can tell you who they are and why they were here.”This caught La Contessa’s attention.“Obviously,” Nick continued smoothly, “they came because Baxter led a certain person into the parking garage opposite in full view of the CCTV cameras.”“They have video surveillance?” gasped la Contessa. “Why didn’t you tell me?”“If I had known you were about to break in I would have done what any self respecting husband would have done,” said Nick. “And disabled the cameras.”“So they came to find out what I had discovered?”“Exactly. I saw Arthur Minns pull out in the Rolls Royce with a bandaged head this morning,” said Nick. “And looking at ‘Brain’ Durain on the screen I see he has a bandage on his calf where Baxter bit him. Clearly they are the muscle but I suspect someone else is giving the orders.”
Two hooded men dressed in black are leaning over La Contessa on the garden sofa. Some kind of mask was covering her face.Before the men could react, Nick snatched up a porcelain chicken La Contessa’s mother had sent from Italy and dashed it against the head of the skinnier of the two assailants. Meanwhile a growling Baxter fixed himself to the calf of the burlier of the two men. Nick kicked his backside and both men fled through the open gate. “Oh my darling, what have they done to you?” said Nick, kneeling quickly over La Contessa. Her face was covered with a plastic mask that pulsed with LED red lights. Nick gently prised the contraption free. A drowsy La Contessa blinked up at him. “What happened?” she said sleepily.“Have they hurt you? asked Nick anxiously.“Oh this?” said La Contessa. “It’s my personal light therapy anti-ageing face mask. It’s to firm skin and boost collagen levels. I must have fallen asleep after I put it on.” Nick let out a relieved sigh. “So you put this thing on yourself?”“Of course darling. It takes an army of people and products to have natural beauty like this. Now we are in coronavirus lockdown I can’t get to half of them so I am having to improvise at home,” said La Contessa. “What happened to Mama’s chicken?” “There were two men here darling, didn’t you see them? I hit one with the chicken and Baxter bit the other one and chased them off.” “Oh really Nick, is that the best you can do? I know you have never liked that chicken. You can sweep it up before you come to bed.”
“That’s very interesting,” Nick said, slipping his hip flask into his pocket and getting up from the park bench where he and his friend Detective Inspector Dave Cleaver sat when they “walked” their dogs. “I’m not sure how it ties in with Rose Turner’s murder,” Cleaver said.Three minutes later Nick and Baxter stepped through the garden gate just as La Contessa was conducting her final evening surveillance of the apartments opposite. “Welcome home boys,” she said, stepping out from the bush where the telescope was hidden and sniffing Nick’s breath. “It’s funny how you never seem out of breath or hot when you come back from those walks with Cleaver.” “Natural fitness,” Nick said smoothly. “Baxter and I have trained into peak physical condition.”“Oh really? And what else did you discover on your long exercise routine?”“Well Cleaver knew quite a lot about our Rolls Royce driving friend Arthur Minns from apartment number two.”“Did it tie in with the ingredients for molotov cocktails that Baxter found in his garage?”“Minns was Charles Turner’s driver for 40 years and now drives for his widow Catherine,” Nick said.“They met when a car Minns was driving from a bank robbery crashed into Turner’s car.” “That’s a funny way to meet your future employer,” La Contessa said.“But a good way for an entrepreneur to meet a crook,” Nick said. “While he was on bail Minns was arrested for arson in relation to the torching of one of Turner’s buildings. Turner made a fortune on the insurance and when he got out of jail, Minns was given a job for life.”
“Gosh, that Baxter really is a little rascal,” said a breathless La Contessa as she and the dog hurtled into the garden in a flurry, causing Nick to spill half his martini onto the big Hibernation crossword.“Bad boy, Baxter,” admonished Nick. “What has she made you … I mean what have you done now?”Baxter failed to look even remotely remorseful as he took a loud slurp of water and plonked himself on his blanket.“Well, he broke off his lead and dashed into the car park of the apartment block opposite,” said La Contessa.“Really? And how did our super intelligent beagle beat the sophisticated security measures?”“We just happened to be in the bushes, where he dragged me, when a car came out and then we, I mean he, dashed in. I had to follow him, of course.”“Of course. It’s amazing how that dog drags you into so many scrapes.”“I know, right. Anyway, once we were in there Baxter insisted on looking in every single one of the parking spots and guess what we found?”Nick was sitting up and paying attention now. “Go on.”“In the parking spot of apartment No. 2, the one with that great big Rolls Royce …”“Which has mail addressed to Arthur Minns,” interrupted Nick.“Yes, well tucked away in front of the car was a box of glass bottles, a torn T-shirt and a jerry can of petrol,” said La Contessa. “Isn’t that what you said you needed to make …”“Molotov cocktails,” said Nick. “Clever boy, Baxter.”
“Mariabella, I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Nick said, echoing the exact words he had uttered before his wife dispatched him to meet the late billionaire Charles Turner’s mistress Natalia Kowalski.“Nonsense,” said La Contessa in an ominous echo of the very words she had said before a molotov cocktail was lobbed into their garden. “And besides, you look positively dashing.”“Hmm, do you really think so?” asked Nick. He was wearing a motley collection of his old sports gear, Roosters jersey, Swans socks and Surf Lifesaving shorts. “I feel more dressed for Mardi Gras than for a one-on-one gym session with dodgy Wayne Durain.”“Nick darling, you will be fine and perhaps a workout might make some of that gear a little less … snug.”An hour later Baxter yelped in alarm as a sweating and extremely red faced Nick staggered into the yard. He collapsed, breathlessly onto the outdoor sofa and gestured at the fridge.“Darling, are you OK? What can I get you?” asked a flustered La Contessa. “Water? Iced tea? Lemonade?”Nick was becoming redder. “Martini?” she asked. He sighed in relief.Some time later he was finally able to respond to his wife’s frantic questions. “I think we should call our friend ‘Brain’ Durain because he is certainly not the sharpest chisel in the box,” he said.“The interesting thing is that he was Charles Turner’s personal trainer before he was invited to live in the apartment block and started dating his daughter.”“He certainly landed on his feet,” said La Contessa.“Unlike his girlfriend,” said Nick.
“And now we are going to streeeetch those muscles …”Nick wandered into the garden to be met with the extraordinary sight of La Contessa wearing her old 1980s high-legged purple leotard and Jane Fonda wool leg warmers stretching in front of her laptop. “Hello … darling … I’m … doing … an … exercise … class … with … Wayne … from … the … apartments … opposite,” she panted.Nick looked at a buff young man on the screen with a blond crew cut who was doing exactly the same stretch as La Contessa but with considerably more ease.“Well now, there is a likely lad,” Nick said.“Sshhh, he can hear you. It’s a live class,” La Contessa said urgently as Wayne’s voice came over the speaker.“Great work guys,” he said. “Same time tomorrow.” The screen went black as he logged out.“Phew, the things I do for detective work,” La Contessa said. “I got on early and had a chat with him before everyone else logged in.”“Good work,” Nick said, eyeing the outdoor fridge. All this physical exertion was making him thirsty. “And did he say anything?”La Contessa had a gleam in her eye that Nick recognised all too well. “When he told me where he lived I asked if he knew Rose Turner. He said they had just started dating and he was heartbroken.”“Did you believe him?” Nick asked. “If he was heartbroken he was doing a pretty good job of hiding it.”
“Do you think it was her?” La Contessa asked, looking at the smouldering embers of Baxter’s kennel.“No, I don’t think that’s the work of a high class mistress like Natalia Kowalski,” Nick said. “She is a lover not a fighter. But someone in Turner Towers has found out about my visit and decided to send us a very strong warning.”“But who else could it be? The only other person we know in there with a motive is Charles Turner’s widow Catherine and she does not look the type to start throwing petrol bombs in the middle of the night.”“We need to look at the mail you stole and see who else is there,” Nick said, sitting down to the sound of a loud crack from the cushion beneath him.“Oh yes, that’s where I hid that last Easter egg you couldn’t find on Sunday,” La Contessa said as Nick pulled the crumpled tin foil and chocolate from beneath him.“What we need is a strong young man,” Nick said soldiering on. “That kind of dirty work requires a thug’s touch.”“What about him?” La Contessa asked, pulling out an envelope addressed to a “Wayne Durain” and tearing it open. Nick sighed.“I had thought we would get the names and then return the mail,” he said.“Oh shoosh silly, and miss all these clues. Look this is a receipt for a whole lot of gym equipment. That makes him strong enough to throw a molotov cocktail,” La Contessa said.“Or a body,” Nick said.
The crash of glass and whoosh of igniting petrol came just as Nick and La Contessa were getting into bed.Nick dashed through the kitchen, grabbing the fire extinguisher his wife had insisted they had to have years before, and ran into the garden. The molotov cocktail had landed and erupted into flame inside Baxter’s kennel, which was completely ablaze. Nick sprayed it with foam.“Oh darling, what on earth happened?” La Contessa gasped, clutching his elbow.“Molotov cocktail,” Nick said and then, seeing her confused expression, he explained: “A bottle filled with petrol with a burning rag stuck in the neck to ignite it once the glass breaks. Clearly lobbed over the garden fence and by complete luck it landed in the kennel, which helped contain the blaze.”“But what if poor Baxter had been in there?” she asked in horror.At that moment, right on cue, a sleepy Baxter pottered into the garden, sniffed at the still smoking kennel and lifted his leg to assist in putting out any remaining embers.“Why on earth would the dog spend time in a hut in the garden when he is given pride of place in the middle of our bed every night?” Nick said.“Who would do such a thing?” La Contessa said.“Now you are thinking like a detective,” Nick said. “Who indeed? It seems my visit to Natalia Kowalski has caused a little consternation to the residents opposite.”
“Mariabella, I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Nick protested. “I’ve got to read the form for the second day of The Championships.”“Nonsense. You are a big boy and besides, I will be watching through the telescope right here.”Nick shrugged his shoulders in resigned frustration. He knew there was absolutely no point in trying to reason with his wife once her mind was made up. And in this instance that mind was set on him visiting high-class prostitute and billionaire Charles Turner’s mistress Natalia Kowalski in the apartment block opposite.“I still can’t believe you found her online, let alone booked an appointment,” he said as he headed for the gate. “What name did you use again?”“John Smith,” La Contessa replied, already in place with the telescope under the orange bush.Less than ten minutes later he was back.“That was fast, even for you,” La Contessa laughed. “She did not even get a chance to draw the curtains.”“No, as I tried to explain earlier, I arrested her years ago when I was on the vice squad. She recognised me straight away.”“Oh,” La Contessa said disappointedly. “So she didn’t tell you anything?”“Well, she may have somehow got the impression I was still a policeman,” Nick said with a smile. “She told me Turner gave her the keys to the apartment and asked her to move in before he died.”“Did she know anything about the dead girl, Rose Turner?”“Apparently not, but I think my visit may stir things up a little.”
“I put in a call to our good friend Detective Inspector Cleaver about the young woman living on the ground floor,” Nick said.“Natalia Kowalski,” La Contessa said. “You know, I’ve been watching her and despite the coronavirus isolation she often has gentlemen visitors.”“Aha!” Nick said. “Go on my Palermo Poirot.”“Well, one doesn’t like to say it, but the gentlemen arrive, she puts down the blinds in the bedroom and an hour later they leave. I think she may be a lady of easy virtue.”Nick nodded. “You are right. Her name rang a bell so I called Cleaver to check. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t muddling it up – I had a Polish friend who was a sound technician, and a Czech one too.”“That wasn’t funny,” La Contessa frowned. “It was a little bit funny,” Nick protested. “Anyway, I was right. She was one of the girls we arrested in a bust on an illegal brothel about 10 years ago.”“Well, they are pretty swanky digs for running that kind of operation,” his wife said.“I think she is just earning a little bit of money on the side,” Nick said. “Keeping her hand in. “The real game for her has been her role as a high-society mistress.”“Oh no, don’t tell me,” La Contessa gasped, her hand flying to her mouth in surprise. “As mistress to the late billionaire Charles Turner.”“One and the same,” Nick nodded. “The question is, why he would put his mistress, his wife and his heiress in the same building?”
“What date is it darling?” La Contessa asked.“I think it must be the 65th of April, didn’t March have 87 days this year?” Nick said. “It certainly felt like it. Why?”“I can’t believe it has been almost two weeks since poor Rose Turner was pushed off that building and we are still no closer to finding her killer,” La Contessa said. Nick was busy mixing the first martini of the day. He finished shaking the vodka and asked his wife what she had learnt from her brief encounter with the widow of the late billionaire Charles Turner.“Not much I am afraid,” La Contessa said. “She mostly complained about being locked down in Sydney so far away from her friends and family in Toorak.”“Hmm, did she say why she was here?”“I did ask that and she said it was her late husband’s wish that she come and spend time in his last building.”“With his illegitimate daughter and heiress …”“When I mentioned that she just said it was a terrible business and rushed off. Not much help I am afraid.”“Nonsense my little Lombardy lovely, every piece of information adds to the jigsaw puzzle of clues we are putting together,” Nick said, handing her a martini. “For instance, while you were gone I did a little checking on Natalia Kowalski on the ground floor.”La Contessa’s eyes sparkled and she sat up eagerly.“And you won’t believe what I found,” Nick said.
“Look at how shiny this is.” La Contessa held up a dollar coin from the bucket of soapy suds in front of her. Nick raised a quizzical eyebrow.“I’m washing all the coins to make sure they don’t have any traces of the COVID-19 virus,” she explained.“The unexpected consequences of this virus,” observed Nick dryly. “Is that it has turned my wife into a money launderer.”La Contessa ducked back under the orange tree for her 500th examination of the apartment block opposite that morning.“Quickly!” she exclaimed, turning round and grabbing a startled Baxter and dragging the hapless beagle towards the gate. “The widow Turner is taking her ghastly pekinese for a walk and I’m going to take some of my gold coins, buy a coffee and bump into her.”“Good luck darling,” said Nick. “Look for unnecessary hand wringing, a sudden urge to confess and furtive glances over the shoulder.”As she and Baxter flew out of the gate, Nick sat down contemplatively in front of the mail his wife had stolen from the mailboxes of the apartment block opposite. After a moment he picked one up and turned it in his hands before pulling out his mobile phone.“Hello Cleaver,” he said to his old friend and dog-walking companion Detective Inspector Dave Cleaver. “Can you look someone up for me on the police computer?”“It’s Natalia Kowalski, her name’s ringing a bell from our old days on the vice squad.”
“Nicky, I don’t think Baxter realised it was me walking him today — he tried to drag me into every single pub and bar along the whole main street,” said a red faced and clearly exhausted La Contessa after bursting back through the garden gate.“Then he dragged me into the bottle shop where the owner knew him by name and pulled out a dish of water …”“Ahhhh, yes well,” began Nick. “ … with Baxter’s name on it!” his wife said furiously.“But darling, I thought you were going out to try and find out who lives in the apartments opposite?” Nick said, desperate to distract La Contessa.“Oh Nick, I did,” she said excitedly. “Look what I found.”La Contessa lifted her gym top to reveal more than 20 letters and envelopes stuffed into the top of her leggings.“Darling, you do realise under the Telecommunications and Postal Services Act 1989 there is a penalty of up to five years for stealing someone else’s mail?” Nick said, who was nevertheless quite impressed.“But what if you open someone else’s mail by accident?” she said, pulling the envelopes out and dumping them in a heap on the table.“Even you would have trouble explaining how you managed to open the mail of 12 different apartments without realising not one was for you,” Nick said. “Oh Nick, don’t be such a policeman, let’s see who lives there,” La Contessa said.
“So when you were buying all the vodka and putting it in the freezer, did you think to pick up any toilet roll?”Nick sighed. He loved his wife but she did tend to focus on things that were clearly not important. “How on earth could I carry that when my arms were full of martini essentials,” he said. La Contessa was back under the orange bush with the telescope, examining the apartment block opposite. She emerged, leaves tangled in her curly hair, clearly struck by inspiration.“We know that the poor dead girl, Rose Turner, was an heiress to her father’s property and business fortune.”“Correct,” said Nick. “Giving us a list of people who were set to inherit from him and would therefore have a motive to bump her off the roof.” “And we know that the killer is in coronavirus lockdown opposite and is still in there.”“Ahhh,” Nick said nodding. “I see where you are going. If we found out who was living in the apartments opposite and cross matched that with the people who were due to inherit … “We would find the killer,” squeaked La Contessa excitedly. “Come on Baxter, we’re going for a walk.”She grabbed the lead and clicked it onto the excited beagle’s collar.“Where are you going?” Nick asked, a concerned furrow to his brow as his wife and dog exited through the garden gate. “You know you cannot get within two metres of anyone.” “I’m going to find out who lives in the apartments opposite,” she said.
“What do you think of this darling?” La Contessa asked, pirouetting into the garden in a red dress so tight she could only have been poured into it. “Botticelli himself could not have captured such beauty,” Nick replied, looking up briefly from the back of the television set he had carried into the yard. He pressed the TV remote and it mercifully burst into life with coverage of the first day of The Championships at Royal Randwick.They were about to be joined on Zoom by friends in Queensland, Victoria and Adelaide for the best of the races at Caulfield, Doomben and Morphetville. “It’s so nice to be able to still dress up and attend the races with our friends,” La Contessa said. “Oh, and I do like the cravat Nick. Very debonair. What do you fancy?” Nick bounced to his feet.“No not that, silly. In the races. It will be a nice break not to think about catching that poor girl’s killer,” she said. “I saw Inn Keeper in race six at Caulfield and for some reason thought of you.” “Well, I was thinking about poor dead Rose Turner and thought I might put a few dollars on All Too Soon in race five at Randwick” Nick said. “And then I hoped Rose had had her Best of Days, number six in the Doncaster Mile, before someone took Aim, horse seven race six, and tried to plant her on the Nature Strip, number one in the TJ Smith Stakes.” At that moment the sun passed behind Turner Towers and cast the garden into shadow.
“So when you were buying all the vodka and putting it in the freezer, did you think to pick up any toilet roll?”Nick sighed. He loved his wife but she did tend to focus on things that were clearly not important. “How on earth could I carry that when my arms were full of martini essentials,” he said.La Contessa was back under the orange bush with the telescope, examining the apartment block opposite. She emerged, leaves tangled in her curly hair, clearly struck by inspiration.“We know that the poor dead girl, Rose Turner, was an heiress to her father’s property and business fortune.”“Correct,” said Nick. “Giving us a list of people who were set to inherit from him and would therefore have a motive to bump her off the roof.”“And we know that the killer is in coronavirus lockdown opposite and is still in there.”“Ahhh,” Nick said nodding. “I see where you are going. If we found out who was living in the apartments opposite and cross matched that with the people who were due to inherit …“We would find the killer,” squeaked La Contessa excitedly. “Come on Baxter, we’re going for a walk.”She grabbed the lead and clicked it onto the excited beagle’s collar.“Where are you going?” Nick asked, a concerned furrow to his brow as his wife and dog exited through the garden gate. “You know you cannot get within two metres of anyone.”“I’m going to find out who lives in the apartments opposite,” she said.
“Nicky!” Resting detective Nick Moore’s eyebrows shot up in alarm. La Contessa only ever called him like that when there was trouble afoot.“Yes, my Sardinian sorceress,” he replied.“You know how you said you were going to fill the freezer with essential supplies?”“And I did, my little Calabrian cutie.” “Well it appears the freezer is completely filled with vodka. There is no room for food.” “And your point is …”“What if we go into total lockdown?”“Exactly. I am testing every vodka I can find in order to make the perfect coronavirus martini.”La Contessa threw her arms up in despair. “Well, tell me what you have found out about that dead girl Rose Turner.”Nick jumped at the chance to change the topic. “She came out of nowhere six months ago and was introduced to the world by Charles Turner as his previously unknown illegitimate daughter.”“I’m not surprised that dirty, corrupt old goat had a love child,” La Contessa said. “My hairdresser told me about the parties she attended at his Palm Beach pad.”“And it seems,” Nick continued, “that after their high-profile reunion Turner ensconced the 20-year-old in the penthouse opposite.”“Only to pop his clogs a couple of months ago, leaving her in line for a hefty inheritance one would imagine,” his wife said. Nick nodded. “It would also put her at the front of a long queue of people who thought they would be the one collecting the lion’s share of his fortune.”
“Darling, it is quite tiring being a detective.”La Contessa’s voice was muffled by the miniature orange tree she had buried herself in with Nick’s astronomy telescope. “I have told you that many times,” said Nick, as she adjusted the telescope to observe each of the apartments opposite. “Any developments? Anybody sitting down to sign confessions?”“Not so far,” said La Contessa, emerging as Nick’s mobile phone started buzzing with the name Cleaver on the screen. “Oh, put him on speaker darling,” La Contessa said. “He may have information on that poor girl.”“Nick, you may be onto something.” Det Insp Cleaver’s voice boomed out of the handset. “The dead girl is Rose Turner.” “What! The girl who was in all the papers last year?” asked Nick.“One and the same. The recently discovered 20-year-old illegitimate daughter of our resident rich list billionaire Charles Turner.”“Who was standing in line to inherit all of his wealth now that the evil old coot has finally shuffled off the mortal perch.”“In police circles we call that motive,” Cleaver said. “But officially there are no suspicious circumstances. I will leave the detective work up to you.”“Suddenly, after becoming the next in line to all his money she coincidentally falls from the top of her late father’s newest building,” La Contessa said.“In detective work,” Nick said. “There are no such things as coincidences.”
“How exciting! Catching a killer from our locked down backyard,” La Contessa said.Nick looked at his watch and nodded at Baxter who scooted off to return with his lead.“I’m going to meet Cleaver,” he said surreptitiously slipping a hip flask into his pocket.“Remember darling, two is now the maximum for any public meeting,” she said.“They are not counting dogs, so I think we are OK.”Nick emerged to see the portly figure of Detective Inspector Dave Cleaver puffing up the road with his bulldog Brian. They walked the dogs together every evening.“Nasty business in the apartments opposite,” Nick said once they were sitting comfortably on opposite ends of a public bench. “Yes, no suspicious circumstances,” Cleaver replied. “Another victim of coronavirus.”“I think she was pushed,” Nick said. Cleaver’s eyebrows shot up. “Can you dig around and find out a bit more for me?”“A Nick Moore hunch hey, they have never been wrong,” Cleaver said. “Apart from when you accused the chief of having an affair with his secretary on company time. Or when you …”“Yes, yes, we don’t need to go into that now,” Nick said. “Ever since that corrupt-to-the-core old billionaire Charles Turner built that monstrosity opposite us I have felt there is something odd there. And now this girl comes tumbling from the roof.” Cleaver and Nick stood up. “OK Nick,” Cleaver said. “I’ll let you know who your murder victim is.”
La Contessa’s eyes widened. “She didn’t jump. You mean she was …”“Yes, pushed or thrown,” Nick said, walking purposefully over to the outdoor fridge and pulling out the martini glasses.“How do you know?” she said.“Well, to clear the balconies below and the pavement would require an enormous run up and Olympic level long jump skills. She may have been slated for Tokyo 2021 but I doubt it.”He was shaking the vodka over ice now after coating the two ice cold martini glasses with vermouth. “And I ask myself, why did she scream?” he said.“Unless someone was doing something to her that she was trying to resist,” finished La Contessa as Nick carefully shaved the rind of a lemon with a sharp knife and dropped into the martini. He handed her one. “Like throwing her off the top of Turner Towers and into the front seat of old Georgios’s new beamer.”La Contessa threw him a disapproving glance. He raised his glass to her in toast and said: “Here’s to that poor girl, whoever she was, now the work begins.”“What do you mean,” she asked after solemnly sipping the martini.“Well my little Sicilian sauce bottle, we are all in the unique position of isolating at home because of the coronavirus. “So, what difference does that make?” she asked.“Well, after she was thrown from the building I kept watch on the door but no one ran out which means …“That the killer is still in there,” La Contessa finished for him. “And we are going to find them.”“Exactly.”
“Oh my God,” La Contessa’s hand flew to her mouth. They both looked up to see a young woman in a fluttering yellow dress plummet from the apartment block opposite.She crashed onto the roof of a brand new red BMW, setting off the alarm and sending Baxter their beagle into a frenzy. They dashed through the gate and into the street where people were already gathering around the car – while still maintaining social distancing.He grabbed his wife’s hand to stop her crossing the road. As a policeman he knew some things can never be unseen.“Is there anything we can do?” she asked. “No, it looks like a write-off.”“I meant about the girl.”“Ah, no darling.”Sirens were sounding in the distance. Nick kept watching the entrance of the apartment but no one appeared.“Oh noooo my car,” their neighbour Georgios Papadakis appeared in a stained white vest, his hands pulling at his grey hair. “It’s gone. It’s new and it’s gone,” he said.Nick realised his wife, still only wearing her bikini, was trembling. He guided her back to their garden where Baxter was still yapping uncontrollably.“What about the girl Nicky,” she said. “Everyone is talking about the car and not about her. Why would she jump? Is the coronavirus that bad?”“Darling,” he said, looking her dead in the eye. “She didn’t jump.”
“Darling, I cannot believe Tiger Lily has gone down the plughole because of this beastly bug! And I just love this little bikini I bought there. What do you think?”Nick Moore, retired policeman and currently resting private detective, looked over the top of his newspaper as his wife sashayed onto the patio of their Californian bungalow. She looked like Sophia Loren – not now that she is 85 but in her heyday.“Amazing darling, but you could wear nothing and still look fantastic,” he said.La Contessa Mariabella Belluci caught the look in her husband’s eye just as the sun disappeared behind the 12-storey building next door. She stamped her foot impetuously.“I cannot believe the council allowed them to build that glass-sided monstrosity here. I mean,” she continued, flinging a careless arm in its direction, “you can see into every single apartment.”“And they get the pleasure of watching us in our back garden too,” Nick said.“Well that’s not very exciting – just a middle-aged couple sitting around in a pandemic lockdown wondering when it’s a suitable time to draw the first cork,” La Contessa replied.“This lockdown is going to be very tedious with nothing to do and nothing to see …”The rest of her sentence was cut short by the terrible high-pitched scream.
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