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Old Sins (A Henry Johnstone Mystery Book 6) by Jane A. Adams

Read Online Old Sins (A Henry Johnstone Mystery Book 6) by Jane A. Adams Mystery Book

Overview: Old sins have a nasty way of catching up with you, as Detective Chief Inspector Henry Johnstone discovers in this gripping historical mystery, which takes him back to a difficult case in his early days as a police officer. Full of unexpected twists, this is a must-read for fans of Downton Abbey and Jacqueline Winspear.
1929. The discovery of the bodies of two retired policemen, Walter Cole and Hayden Paul, sounds warning bells to DCI Henry Johnstone. Both men were experiencing financial difficulties, and their deaths were staged to look like suicides. Hayden left a note containing two words: old sins. And when Henry attends his sister's Halloween party, he is approached by a flamenco dancer who leaves a note with the name of another man. Could this be a grim warning?
Henry is forced on a painful journey back to an old case he worked on with Cole and Paul. Is someone playing a deadly game with Henry, and is he about to pay for his past mistakes? With Detective Sergeant Mickey Hitchens by his side and his family at risk, Henry must catch a dangerous killer bent on revenge - before the killer catches him .

Read Online Old Sins (A Henry Johnstone Mystery Book 6) by Jane A. Adams Book Chapter One Free. Find Hear Best Mystery Books And Novel For Reading And Download.
Old Sins (A Henry Johnstone Mystery Book 6) by Jane A. Adams

Read Online Old Sins (A Henry Johnstone Mystery Book 6) by Jane A. Adams Book Chapter One

The invitation had said that fancy dress was optional and, of course, Henry had decided to opt out. He looked to be in the minority, though, with most of the guests having raided the dressing-up box or hired something spectacular from Angels Fancy Dress, but despite this determined celebration Henry could perceive an air of desperation in the evening. A sense that every single one of the guests wanted to shut the world out for a time and pretend that the events of the past few weeks had happened to someone else, somewhere else, and had nothing at all to do with them. On 24 October stock prices on Wall Street had dropped precipitously. The press were now calling it Black Thursday. The following Monday stock prices plummeted again and Henry had read that some twenty five billion dollars, a figure he could barely comprehend, had been lost practically overnight. London had already suffered its own disaster back in September and Henry now wondered how many of those attending Cynthia’s Halloween party, on that Thursday night, were now facing complete ruin.

‘I thought you might cancel,’ Henry had said to his sister, Cynthia. Cynthia’s Halloween parties were legendary, but in light of events – more to the point in light of the death of recent friends – he had assumed that she might not hold it this year.

‘I have to do this, Henry. One last bash. I will not be hosting another party, not ever, so you can see this as a farewell performance. But if I don’t do this, I’ll be sending totally the wrong message. We have to keep up appearances, now more than ever, my dear brother. If we look as though we are in debt, then the wolves will close on us and will tear Albert apart.’

Henry had been desperately concerned at that. ‘How bad is it? I thought you’d taken steps to—’

‘It will be all right. Yes, I did make certain of our basic security. But we have to pull our horns in and live quietly.’ She laughed. ‘At least by Albert’s standards. The boys will be able to continue at their school, we’ll keep the house in Bournemouth and live there permanently, but I’m selling the London property. We can take the staff with us, thankfully, but it’s a waste of resources trying to maintain two properties when we live in neither full time. And, thanks to my foresight, both houses are mine – lock, stock and barrel – along with a few other small properties, which I’ll sell when the market improves. And thankfully, the lawyers have tied up everything so tight that no one else can touch what I own, not even my darling husband.’

‘And Albert’s business?’ Henry had asked.

‘What business?’ Cynthia had asked bitterly. ‘Hocked up to hell, overstretched to breaking. As you know, he’s made some stupid investments in the last year.’

Henry nodded. It was this tendency of Albert’s towards risk taking that had caused his sister to take action and pressure her husband to sign over some of his property and investments to her. Cynthia had seen which way the wind might be blowing, but Henry knew she had taken no pleasure at all in being proved correct. ‘Thankfully we pulled out of the German manufactories in time. Have you seen the latest news out of Germany?’

Henry had. None of it looked good. But then no economic news looked good, whatever bit of the world you happened to be examining.

And so this was Cynthia’s swansong. The last big party at the London house before it went on the market in the new year. She would spend the time between now and then shifting everything of value, including her staff, to the Bournemouth residence – the three-storey townhouse with a little garden behind that Cynthia loved. He was profoundly glad that she had managed to hang on to that.

Not that you would think she is worried about anything to look at her tonight, he thought. Cynthia was holding court, standing close to one of the big fireplaces, a glass in one hand and a cigarette in a long holder in the other. She appeared to be dressed as an Egyptian princess, complete with black wig, winged scarabs and asps. She had worn the costume before, three or four years ago, he remembered. Beside her stood Melissa, her middle child, now thirteen and dressed as some kind of Greek goddess. This being the ‘last big party’, she had been allowed to stay up for a little while and her elder brother, Cyril, who’d come home from boarding school for the party, had been promised that he could remain until ten. Little Georgie, having protested very loudly that he should be allowed to go to the party too, had been permitted to greet the earlier guests and to raid the buffet table before being packed off with Nanny. It was Melissa who saw Henry first and came dashing over.

‘Uncle Henry, Uncle Henry! I’m so glad you’re here. Why haven’t you dressed up?’

‘Because Henry never dresses up,’ Cynthia said fondly. She leaned in to kiss Henry on the cheek. ‘Are Mickey and Belle able to come?’ she asked him.

‘They’ll come along later. Belle doesn’t get offstage until about half past ten. I expect she’ll stay in costume.’ Henry laughed. He glanced around the room, recognizing earls and lords and businessmen. Any other hostess would never have dreamed of inviting Detective Sergeant Mickey Hitchens and his actress wife into such company, but Cynthia had a deep love for Henry’s sergeant and for Belle. The two women were close friends, and it would never have occurred to Cynthia to leave them out of this ‘last big bash’, as she called it.

‘Melissa, go and get Uncle Henry a drink. He’s going to have at least one glass of champagne.’

Henry watched fondly as Melissa, long red hair flying out behind her, dodged through the crowded room to the buffet table.

‘Is Albert around?’

‘Lurking in his study. So you have my full permission to go and fetch him out.’ She lowered her voice and said, ‘In fact, please fetch him out, Henry. He’s been in the deep blues this last week or two, you know, especially after Ferdy died. That was a terrible business.’

Henry nodded. Ferdy Bright-Cooper had been Albert’s best friend since they were schoolchildren, and two weeks ago he’d taken his own life. Whisky and a service revolver. The so-called gentleman’s way out, Henry thought. Ferdy Bright-Cooper had not had a Cynthia to protect his interests, and the London Stock Exchange’s crash back in September had taken just about everything from him. This latest disaster on Wall Street had, from what Albert had told Henry, finished the job. Ferdy would have been declared bankrupt by Christmas, his family losing their home, business and standing in society.

‘What’s happened to his family?’ Henry asked quietly.

‘Clara, his wife, has gone back to her parents’ home. Taken the children. She left their family home three or four days before … Albert says that Ferdy told her to go, but I’m not sure whether it was pressure from her family urging her to go or whether he really did just tell her to leave. Either way, she now has nothing, poor love. She comes from old money, of course, so I’m certain that her family will protect her and the children from the worst of the scandal. The last I heard she was going to go abroad for a while.’

Melissa had returned, carrying a glass of champagne carefully cupped between both hands. ‘Here you are, Uncle Henry. Mother, Mrs Ellington wants a word with you. Mr Robertson wants me to get him a whisky. Can I do that, please, Mama? I know how.’

‘If you’re very careful,’ Cynthia told her. She smiled at Henry. ‘I’d better go and see what Mrs Ellington wants. You go and find Albert.’

Henry watched as the two women in his life disappeared and then he abandoned his champagne. Albert would have whisky in his study, and Henry was not a big fan of fizz.

He made his way through the dandies, flappers, penguins and clowns and knocked on Albert’s door, not waiting for a response before opening the door just enough to slide inside. Albert was dressed as a Stuart nobleman, his periwig cast aside on the floor and a very large glass of whisky in his hand. He sat in one of the comfortable and ageing leather armchairs, staring into the fire. He glanced up sharply as Henry came in.

Henry helped himself to a drink and came and sat in the chair opposite. ‘I’ve been sent to find you and lure you out into the party,’ he said. ‘But I doubt we’ll be missed for the next half-hour. Everyone out there seems as intent on getting drunk as you are in here.’

Albert laughed harshly. ‘I’m at that stage, old man, when I can’t seem to get drunk. I reach a certain level and then …’ He took another sip of his whiskey anyway and then set the glass down with exaggerated care on a little side table.

‘I won’t ask how you are – that seems such a stupid question. But I will ask if there’s anything I can do?’

Albert closed his eyes. ‘Thanks, old man. I know you mean that. And I wish there was something you could do, or anyone could do, but I think I have to fight through this one on my own. It just seems so bloody, you know. Ferdy came through the war without a scratch on him. You know that – we all served together.’

Henry nodded.

‘And now, to die like that. In peacetime. He used his service revolver, you know. Well, the war’s over for Ferdy, isn’t it?’

He reached for his glass again and Henry waited for Albert to take a big slug before he said, ‘Cynthia said things were going to be tough, business-wise. How bad is it, Albert? Have you told her everything?’

‘Just about. For God’s sake, Henry, you know how that sister of yours is – she’ll wheedle anything out of a man. Anyway, she understands the business better than I ever did, and that’s the truth of it. It doesn’t do my pride any good, Henry, but I have to admit that if it wasn’t for Cynthia we really would be up Queer Street by now. As it is, when all of this is done and dusted, I should be able to start again with something. Though this house is going, did she tell you that?’

Henry nodded.

‘But that’s not going to be public knowledge until we have everything tidied up as best we can elsewhere. The solicitor tells me that no one can take this house, that it’s not going to be an asset seized by creditors or anything like that, that any money that comes out of it will go into the trust that Cynthia set up, but she still doesn’t want them closing in too fast. She is insisting that we keep up appearances, at least for now, and I see the sense in that, Henry, but it’s bloody hard. Especially when I see men like Ferdy going under.’

Henry didn’t feel that there was anything he could say. What comfort could he offer? Cynthia had done everything she could on a practical level to protect her family, but he could see how much Albert was hurting. Business acumen was meant to be a male domain; wives were not supposed to have wisdom that their husbands did not. And he could see that even though Albert was grateful, a little bit of him was also resentful. He hoped that Albert could get over it, that their marriage would not suffer because of this.

Henry drained his glass and stood up. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘this is your party too. You are the host. You must at least put in an appearance. One hour and then you can escape again. And Mickey will be here later, so you and he can talk about cricket and crime, and I happen to know he’s made up some more microscope slides for you.’ Henry knew that he was clutching at straws in his effort to bring cheer; he had rarely seen Albert look so utterly defeated.

Albert brightened just a little, clearly making the effort. He pointed to a little table set up in the corner of the study on which was set a brass microscope. Melissa was fascinated by all things scientific, and Cynthia had brought her daughter a microscope on her last birthday. Mickey had taught her how to make slides and Albert had been intrigued. He now had a device of his own and was building his own collection, though he was actually quite clumsy when it came to dissecting and mounting a specimen, so his daughter or Mickey usually did it for him. He was clearly thinking that he could manage an hour of being sociable, if he could then escape to his study later with the promise of company more suited to his mood and interests. Albert usually enjoyed parties, taking pleasure in seeing other people eating, drinking, dancing and making merry at his expense, but Henry realized that this was a bitter pill to swallow now.

‘She is right, you know. It’s important to put on a show just now, look confident, keep the wolves away.’

‘I know she’s bloody well right,’ Albert said. ‘But knowing she is right and that I got it so wrong doesn’t help. You know that, Henry?’

‘I know that,’ Henry agreed. ‘Come on, old son, put that smile on and don’t forget your wig.’

Grumbling, Albert picked up the periwig and plonked it on his head, tugging it into some rough approximation of straight. He refilled his glass and then followed Henry out into the maelstrom.

Henry mingled, Melissa and then her older brother were sent off to bed, and the orchestra played in a second room that had been cleared for dancing. Albert seemed to have hit his stride, Henry noted – he stayed out for more than an hour playing the part of generous and welcoming host. Cynthia cast a grateful smile in Henry’s direction.

Henry, of course, found himself questioned about the latest crimes, about ‘any juicy murders’ that he might have been involved with. Henry had realized that there were only certain murders this set was really interested in. The truly scandalous ones that happened rarely but explosively within their own society were of interest, of course, but Henry was not one of their own and would not, therefore, have been included in those particular conversations. Those violent crimes involving the middle classes were usually considered beneath them, bank clerks and doctors being of little interest – too bourgeois and too banal. Gang fights and the deaths of prostitutes had a strange appeal, Henry had learned; a woman who was no better than she should be, being slashed to death by her pimp, was sufficiently distant from their everyday experiences for it to be exciting without requiring any emotional response.

Henry, therefore, tried to avoid being questioned. Women usually thought that they could wheedle things out of him, but they were usually disappointed, and men would discuss the facts they had seen in the local newspapers with grave concern, clearly hoping for more gossip under the cover of manly exploration of the morals of others.

Mickey was far better at playing this game. He could chat for hours, giving the impression that he was taking the listener into his confidence but, in fact, disclosing nothing that wasn’t speculated about in that morning’s newspaper or already in the public domain.

Mickey and Belle arrived just after eleven, and a half-hour later Mickey had disappeared with Albert, and Belle was in deep conversation with two elderly ladies, one of whom Henry recognized as Lady Lydia Forsyth, and who had evidently mistaken Belle as being something of her social equal. Belle, Henry noticed, just looked amused.

A little later she sought him out, bringing a plate from the buffet table to the corner of the room where Henry was perched on the windowsill. She dug a fork into a piece of smoked salmon and asked, ‘So how are you, my love?’

‘I’m well, thank you, my dear. Mickey tells me that you will be in London for the foreseeable future, no more touring for the moment.’

‘Being on the road all the time gets tiring. I’ve a good home to go to and a good man to be with. There are plenty of theatres in London, and I have enough of a reputation now to be confident of getting work. To be truthful, Henry, I’ve had enough of it. It suddenly struck me a few weeks ago that I’m not getting any younger, and that I have all of these slips of girls snapping at my heels, and I just thought to myself, Belle, what are you doing? Go home, stay home.’

‘Well, Mickey will be happy.’ Henry smiled at her. ‘And how is the new show?’

‘Mr Wilde knows how to write women, I’ll give him that.’ Belle grinned. ‘Aren’t you eating anything? You’d better get in quick – they’re like vultures this lot.’

‘I’m not terribly hungry,’ Henry told her, ‘but I’ll tell you what, I can fetch us both a plate of something and you can eat what I don’t want.’

‘Oh, you know me so well, Henry Johnstone.’

She was right, Henry thought. These guests were like vultures. They had fallen on the buffet table, devouring the food as though they hadn’t eaten for a week. More comestibles appeared as dishes emptied but, looking at them, Henry knew that none of these people had ever gone hungry, and he felt a sudden resentment. Henry and Cynthia both appreciated what it was to go without, and some small part of him – not a malicious or malevolent part but just a little whisper at the back of his consciousness – felt that it was about time some of these with privilege knew what it was like to have their sense of entitlement threatened.

He was on his way back to Belle, plates in hands, when a young woman swayed into him. She was dressed in an elaborate flamenco costume, her hair dressed high on her head and held in place with the tortoiseshell comb. A lace mantilla draped from the comb and hung elegantly down her back. She also wore a lace mask, obscuring the upper part of her face and framing very blue eyes.

‘Excuse me,’ she murmured. ‘I hope I didn’t knock you.’ She appeared to do a double take then and look more closely at Henry. ‘You must be the famous detective. Inspector Johnstone, isn’t it?’

It was ‘Chief Inspector’, but Henry wasn’t about to correct her. Eager to avoid another interrogation as to what spectacular crimes he might be investigating, he acknowledged that this was who he was, but that he was taking the plates to somewhere … And could he be excused?

The woman glanced across to where Belle was sitting and she smiled, deep red lips curving into what Henry thought of as a lascivious smile. ‘But of course,’ she said and drifted away.

Reaching Belle, Henry set the plates down on the deep windowsill and reached into his pockets for the cutlery that he had placed there. He found to his surprise that there was also an envelope.

‘What’s that?’ Belle had registered his confusion. ‘Well, open it – it’s addressed to you.’

Examining the envelope, Henry realized that was the case. Detective Chief Inspector Henry Johnstone was inscribed in a very elegant, cursive hand.

‘Good evening, Inspector,’ said a familiar voice. The woman was smiling and was soon swept into Belle’s embrace. ‘Malina, my darling, don’t you look wonderful.’

She did indeed, Henry thought. Malina was his sister’s secretary and general assistant. Malina was, like Cynthia, also in pseudo-Egyptian dress: pleated silk nipped in at the waist with an elaborate sash and a heavily braided black wig covered her own dark hair.

‘Malina. It’s good to see you. You are looking very well.’

She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek and, a little self-consciously, Henry returned the greeting.

‘Not in fancy dress, Henry, or are you disguised as a chief inspector?’ Malina said.

Henry smiled. He was very fond of Malina. Originally she had come to Cynthia’s house in need of protection during an investigation in which Henry had been involved, but she had stayed on as an employee and had become a friend. Henry knew her to be immensely loyal on both counts.

Belle’s plate was empty, so she exchanged it for Henry’s fully laden one. Henry opened the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper, on which was written a single name and a brief sentence. Don’t believe the obvious.

Belle leaned in to look. ‘Who on earth is that? “Robert Cranston Esq.”. Do you know him, Henry?’

He shook his head. He turned the paper over, but there was nothing else. He folded the paper back into the envelope and stuffed it in his pocket, his eyes scanning the room for the flamenco dancer, but she was nowhere in sight. ‘Belle … Malina …’

‘Run along with you,’ Belle said, smiling. ‘Malina and I can catch up – we’ve not seen each other for, oh, at least a week. Go and find whoever it was that slipped that into your pocket. You obviously have some idea of who that might be. Be warned, Henry – if you don’t come back soon, I’ll eat your supper as well.’

Henry headed back to the buffet table, trying to remember in what direction the young woman had lurched away. He’d assumed she was inebriated, but now he wasn’t so sure. With hindsight, the moment seemed staged. He searched the buffet room and then looked into the next room, where the musicians were now playing something ragtime and bodies gyrated and swivelled and collided, but he could see no one dressed in flamenco costume.

He went out into the hall where two young women in Cynthia’s employ were waiting to fetch coats, take cloaks and point people in the right direction. Neither of them had seen a flamenco woman, but one of the kitchen girls, coming through with another plate of food, overheard and told Henry that she’d just seen a woman of that description heading towards the kitchen. She assumed the woman was lost and directed her back upstairs. She’d been too busy to notice where the woman had gone after that.

Henry ducked beneath the staircase and down the back stairs towards the kitchen. He knew the layout of Cynthia’s house well, and he also knew that there was a small passageway just beyond the kitchen that led into a little yard. From there, via a delivery gate, it was possible to get out into the neighbouring street. He arrived to find the gate was open, but of anyone resembling flamenco dancer, there was no sign.

Henry walked up and down the street for a while, asking passers-by if they had seen a young woman in fancy dress, but she might have vanished into thin air for all the good it did him. He wandered back, returning to Belle, knowing she would be curious as to what had been going on. She had not yet started on his plate of food, and she handed it to him and told him that he must tuck in.

‘Have you been taking instruction from Mickey?’ he asked. His sergeant was always urging him to eat; Henry did have a tendency to forget, and it was only when he was ravenously hungry that his body reminded him.

‘Did you find her?’

‘No, it looks as though she left through the back door. It makes me wonder if she actually had an invitation in the first place.’

‘Was anyone actually checking?’ Belle asked. ‘I imagine if you turn up in fancy dress and look confident then nobody is going to challenge you.’

‘True,’ Henry conceded. ‘Let’s find Mickey. He’s holed-up in the study with Albert, I imagine.’

‘I’ll take your plate – you can fetch us both some champagne. I’m fully aware that you won’t drink yours, but that’s all the more for me.’

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