#1" New York Times" bestselling author Elizabeth George delivers a new masterpiece of suspense in her Inspector Lynley series: a gripping child-in-danger story that tests Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers as never before.
Barbara is at a loss: Hadiyyah, the daughter of her friend Taymullah Azhar, has been taken by her mother, and Barbara can't really help. Azhar has no legal claim.
Just when Azhar is beginning to accept his soul-crushing loss, he gets more shocking news: Hadiyyah has been kidnapped from an Italian marketplace. As both Barbara and her partner, Inspector Thomas Lynley, soon discover, the case is far more complex than a typical kidnapping, revealing secrets that could have far-reaching effects outside of the investigation. With both her job and the life of a little girl on the line, Barbara must decide what matters most and how far she's willing to go to protect it.
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Elizabeth George is the "New York Times "bestselling author of numerous suspense novels, one book of nonfiction, and two short story collections. Her work has been honored with the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, and France's Le Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. She lives in Washington State.
Recent Inspector Thomas Lynley novels include: "Believing the Lie," "This Body of Death," "Careless in Red," "What Came Before He Shot Her," "With No One as Witness, ""A Place of Hiding," and "A Traitor to Memory."
**This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.**
The world is still deceived with ornament. In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt But, being season’d with a gracious voice, Obscures the show of evil?
The Merchant of Venice
Sitting on a plastic chair inside Brompton Hall among a crowd of two hundred shouting individuals—all dressed in what had to be called alternative garb—was the last thing Thomas Lynley had ever expected to find himself doing. Edgy music was blasting from speakers the size of a tower block on Miami Beach. A food stall was doing a very brisk business in hot dogs, popcorn, lager, and soft drinks. A female announcer was periodically shrieking above the din to call out scores and name penalties. And ten helmeted women on roller skates were racing round a flat ring delineated with tape on the concrete floor.
It was supposed to be an exhibition match only: something to educate the populace in the finer points of women’s flat track roller derby. But it was a case of tell-that-to-the-players, for the women engaged in the bout were deadly serious.
They had intriguing names. All of them were printed, along with suitably menacing photos, in the programmes that had been distributed as spectators took their seats. Lynley had chuckled as he’d read each nom de guerre. Vigour Mortis. The Grim Rita. Grievous Bodily Charm.
He was there because of one of the women, Kickarse Electra. She skated not with the local team—London’s the Electric Magic—but rather with the team from Bristol, a savage-looking group of females who went by the alliterative collective Boadicea’s Broads. Her actual name was Daidre Trahair, she was a large animal veterinarian employed at Bristol’s zoo, and she had no idea that Lynley was among the howling mass of spectators. He wasn’t sure if he was going to keep matters that way. He was, at this point, operating strictly by feel.
He had a companion with him, having lacked the courage to venture into this unknown world on his own. Charlie Denton had accepted his invitation to be enlightened, educated, and entertained at Earls Court Exhibition Centre, and at this moment, he was milling among the crowd at the snack stall.
He’d made the declaration of “It’s on me, m’lord . . . sir,” with that final word a hasty correction that one would think by now he’d not even have to make. For he’d been seven years in Lynley’s employ, and when he wasn’t addressing his passion for the stage through auditions for various theatrical events in Greater London, he served as manservant, cook, housekeeper, aide-de-camp, and general factotum in Lynley’s life. He’d so far managed Fortinbras in a north London production, but the West End north London was not. So he soldiered on in his double life, determinedly believing that his Big Break was only round the next corner.
Now, he was amused. Lynley could see that in Denton’s face as he made his way back across Brompton Hall to the array of chairs among which Lynley sat. He carried a cardboard food tray with him.
“Nachos,” Denton said as Lynley frowned down at something that looked like orange lava erupting from a mountain of fried tortilla. “Your dog’s got mustard, onions, and relish. The ketchup looked iffy so I gave it a pass, but the lager’s nice. Have at it, sir.”
Denton said all this with a twinkle in his eye, although Lynley reckoned it could have been just the light shining on the lenses of his round-framed spectacles. He was daring Lynley to refuse the offered repast and instead come forth as he really was. He was also entertained by the sight of his employer sitting chummily next to a bloke whose potbelly overhung his baggy jeans and whose dreadlocks fell the length of his back. Lynley and Denton had come to depend upon this individual. His name was Steve-o, and what he didn’t know about women’s flat track roller derby did not, apparently, bear knowing at all.
He was attached to Flaming Aggro, he’d told them happily. Plus, his sister Soob was a member of the cheering squad. This latter group of individuals had taken up a position whose disturbing proximity to Lynley added to the general cacophony surrounding him. They wore black from head to toe with embellishments of hot pink in the form of tutus, hair decorations, knee socks, shoes, or waistcoats, and they had so far spent most of their time screaming “Break ’em, baby!” and shaking pink and silver pompoms.
“Great sport, innit?” Steve-o kept saying as the Electric Magic piled the points onto the scoreboard. “It’s tha’ Deadly Deedee-light does most of the scoring. Long ’s she don’t rack up the penalties, we’re in, mate.” And then onto his feet he leapt, shouting, “Do it, Aggro!” as his girlfriend swept by in the midst of the pack.
Lynley was loath to tell Steve-o that he was a supporter of Boadicea’s Broads. It was a matter of chance that he and Denton had placed themselves among the Electric Magic fans. The Boadicea’s Broads crowd was on the other side of the taped-off ring, being led into a frenzy of synchronised shouting by their own squad of cheerleaders who, like those supporting the Electric Magic, were dressed in black but with touches of red. They appeared to have more experience in the arena of cheerleading. They executed vague dance moves with accompanying leg kicks that were most impressive.
It was the sort of event that should have appalled Lynley. Had his father been there—doubtless dressed to the nines with one or two touches of ermine and red velvet lest someone doubt his position in society—he would have lasted less than five minutes. The sight of the women on roller skates might have given him a coronary, and listening to Steve-o drop his t’s and ignore his h’s would have made the poor man’s blood run cold. But Lynley’s father was long in his grave, and Lynley himself had spent most of the evening grinning so much that his cheeks were actually beginning to hurt.
He’d learned far more than he’d ever have imagined possible upon having made the decision to accept the invitation that had been printed on a handbill he’d found among his post a few days earlier.
He’d discovered they were meant to keep their eyes on the jammer, identified by the star cap that stretched across her helmet. This wasn’t a permanent position for a skater, as the star cap was passed round among the women. But the jammer was the team’s scoring position, and the ultimate scoring came during a power jam when the opposing team’s jammer had to sit in the penalty box. He’d learned the purpose of the pack and, thanks to Steve-o, what it meant when the lead jammer rose from her crouched position to place her hands on her hips. He was still rather vague on the purpose of the pivot— although he knew who she was by the striped cap she wore stretched over her helmet—but he was definitely getting the idea that roller derby was a sport of strategy as well as skill.
Mostly, he’d kept his eyes on Kickarse Electra throughout the match-up between London and Bristol. She, he discovered, was quite a jammer. She skated aggressively, like a woman to the roller skates born. Lynley wouldn’t have thought it possible of the quiet, thoughtful veterinarian he’d met seven months earlier on the coast of Cornwall. He knew she was practically unbeatable at darts. But this . . . ? He never would have guessed it.
His pleasure in the wild sport had been interrupted only once, in the middle of a power jam. He’d felt his mobile vibrate in his pocket, and he’d dug it out to see who was ringing him. His first thought was that the Met was calling him back to work. For the caller was his usual partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. Still, she was ringing from her home phone and not from her mobile so perhaps, he thought, he was in luck and nothing had occurred that wanted his attention.
He’d answered, but he’d not been able to hear her. The noise was far too intense. He’d shouted that he would ring her back as soon as he was able to do so, and he’d shoved the mobile back into his pocket and forgotten about the matter.
The Electric Magic won the bout twenty minutes later. The two groups of skaters congratulated each other. Athletes mingled with spectators then, cheerleaders mingled with athletes, referees mingled with each other. No one was in a hurry to leave, which was all to the good since Lynley intended to do a little mingling himself.
He turned to Denton. “I’m not sir.”
Denton said, “Pardon?”
“We’re here as friends. Make it school chums. You can do that, can’t you?”
“What, me? Eton?”
“It’s well within your skill set, Charlie. And call me either Thomas or Tommy. It doesn’t matter which.”
Denton’s round eyes got even rounder behind his spectacles. He said, “You want me to . . . I’ll probably choke if I try to say it.”
“Charlie, you’re an actor, yes?” Lynley said. “This is your BAFTA moment. I’m not your employer, you’re not my employee. We’re going to talk to someone, and you’re going to pose as my friend. It’s . . .” He sought the correct term. “It’s improv.”
Charlie’s face brightened. “C’n I do the Voice?”
“If you must. Come with me.”
Together, then, they approached Kickarse Electra. She was in conversation with London’s Leaning Tower of Lisa, an impressive Amazonian who stood at least six feet five inches tall in her roller skates. She would have been an imposing presence anywhere, and she was particularly striking next to Kickarse Electra, who, even in her skates, was some seven inches shorter.
Leaning Tower of Lisa first saw Lynley and Denton. She said, “You two look like trouble of the very best kind. I claim the smaller one.” And she rolled over to Denton and put her arm round his shoulders. She kissed his temple. He became the colour of pomegranate seeds.
Daidre Trahair turned. She’d taken off her helmet and she’d raised a pair of plastic goggles to the top of her head. They now held back wisps of her sandy hair, which had escaped from the French braid that contained it. She was wearing her spectacles beneath her goggles, but they were badly smudged. She could see through them perfectly well, though, a fact Lynley ascertained by the colour that her skin took on when she looked at him. He could only just see this colour through her makeup, however. Like the other skaters, she was heavily painted, with an emphasis on glitter and lightning bolts.
“My God,” she said.
“I’ve been called worse.” He held up the handbill advertising this event. “We thought to take up the offer. Brilliant, by the way. We
quite enjoyed it.”
Leaning Tower of Lisa said, “This your first?”
“It is,” Lynley told her. And then to Daidre, “You’re far more skilled than you let on when we first met. You do this as well as you throw darts, I see.”
Daidre’s colour deepened. Leaning Tower of Lisa said to her, “You know these blokes?”
Daidre said inarticulately, “Him. I know him.”
Lynley extended his hand to the other skater. “Thomas Lynley,” he told her. “You’ve got your arm round my friend Charlie Denton.”
“Charlie, is it?” Leaning Tower said. “He’s awfully sweet-looking. Are you sweet in character as well as in looks, Charlie?”
“I believe he is,” Lynley told her.
“Does he like big women, then?”
“I expect he takes them as they come.”
“He doesn’t talk much, does he?”
“You might be an overpowering presence.”
“Isn’t that always the case?” Leaning Tower released Denton with a laugh and another solid kiss on his temple. “You change your mind, you know where to find me,” she said to him as she rolled away to join her mates.
Daidre Trahair had apparently used the duration of this exchange to come to her wits. She said, “Thomas. You’re the last person I would have thought to see at a roller derby match.” Then she turned to Denton and extended her hand, saying, “Charlie, I’m Daidre Trahair. How’d you like the match?” She offered this question to them both.
“I’d no idea women could be so ruthless,” Lynley said.
“There’s Lady Macbeth,” Denton pointed out.
“There is that.”
Lynley’s mobile vibrated in his pocket. He took it out and gave it a glance as before. As before, the caller was Barbara Havers. He let it go to message as Daidre said, “Work?” Before he could reply, she added, “You are back at it, aren’t you?”
“I am,” he told her. “But not tonight. Tonight Charlie and I would like you to join us for a postgame . . . whatever. If you’ve a mind for it.”
“Oh.” She looked from him to the milling skaters. She said, “It’s only that . . . the team usually go out. It’s rather a tradition. Would you like to join us? Apparently this group”—with a nod at the Electric Magic—“go to Famous Three Kings on North End Road. Everyone’s invited. It’ll be a bit of a crowd scene.”
“Ah,” Lynley said. “I was rather hoping—we were hoping—for something more conducive to conversation. Can you possibly break with this tradition for once?”
She said regretfully, “I do wish . . . It’s only that we’ve come by coach, you see. It would be rather difficult. I have to return to Bristol.”
“Well, no. We’re in a hotel for the night.”
“We can take you there whenever you’re ready,” he offered. And when she still hesitated, he added, “We’re actually quite harmless, Charlie and I.”
Daidre looked from him to Denton and back to him. She fingered back some of the hair that had come undone from the braid. She said, “I’m afraid I have nothing special . . . I mean, we don’t generally dress for going out.”
“We shall find a place entirely suitable for whatever state of dishabille you demonstrate,” Lynley told her. “Do say yes, Daidre,” he added in a quiet voice.
Perhaps it was the use of her name. Perhaps it was the change in his tone. She thought for a moment and then said all right. But she would have to change and perhaps she ought to get rid of the glitter and the lightning bolts as well?
“I find them rather compelling,” Lynley told her. “What about you, Charlie?”
“It all makes a certain statement,” Denton said.
Daidre laughed. “Don’t tell me what that statement is. I’ll be a few minutes. Where shall I meet you?”
“We’ll be just outside. I’ll pull my car round the front.”
“How will I know...?”
“Oh, you’ll know,” Denton told her.
“I see what he meant” were Daidre’s first words to Lynley when he got out of the car at her approach. “What is this exactly? How old is it?”
“Healey Elliott,” he told her. He opened the door for her. “Nineteen forty-eight.”
“Love of his life,” Denton added from the back as she slid within. “I’m hoping he leaves it to me in his will.”
“Small chance of that,” Lynley told him. “I plan to outlive you by several decades.” He pulled away from the building and headed towards the car park’s exit.
“How do you two know each other?” Daidre asked.
Lynley didn’t reply till they were on Brompton Road, motoring past the cemetery. “School together” was what he said.
“With my older brother,” Denton added.
Daidre glanced over her shoulder at him, then looked at Lynley. Her eyebrows drew together as she said, “I see,” and Lynley had a feeling that she saw more than he really wanted her to.
He said, “He’s ten years older than Charlie,” and with a glance at the rearview mirror, “That’s right, isn’t it?”
“Close enough,” Denton said. ...
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