Copyright © Suz deMello, 2017
One cool, bright summer morning, Peter Fortune, Earl Darlingside, awakened in a big, four-poster bed covered with a fluffy white duvet with a woman beside him. She was dead.
Until that moment, he’d been doing quite well, thank you very much, considering that he’d spent the night before drinking Remy Martin Black Pearl with a number of equally dissolute young noblemen and getting drunk as, well, drunk as lords. He should have had a throbbing head, unclear eyesight and a belly that pitched like bloody hell, but he felt great. And, given that he’d won rather than lost betting on billiards was another point in favor of the day.
Which was, he remembered blearily, Monday, perhaps? Or maybe Tuesday. Did it matter?
The window was open to the Hampstead sunshine and also admitted birdsong. Every once in a while he heard the sound of a distant siren, reminding him of…of…?
Oh yes, the dead girl.
He supposed he ought to call 9-9-9 and get an ambulance, though judging by her total lack of movement and warmth, the authorities would get to her too late. Far too late.
He rolled to the side, reaching for the bedside table where his mobile reposed. Something jabbed his arse, and he threw back the sheet to find a used syringe. A needlestick from an addict’s rig. Oh, shite, I’m fucked. He grabbed the thing and flung it across the room, then called for help.
She’d been called Foxy Roxy for as long as she could remember, but she hadn’t embraced the nickname until her fifteenth birthday. That day she’d visited a charity shop with friends. One had spotted an old fox stole on a mannequin and bought it for Roxanne Fox as a gift. She’d worn that fox pelt around her neck on cool days until it had fallen apart, then bought another and then another. Only from the charity shops, though—she wouldn’t be directly responsible for the death of an innocent animal. Later she’d found a source for high-quality fakes, which fit her vegan habits far better.
This morning, she was nibbling a gluten-free currant scone slathered with soya cream cheese whilst enjoying her second flat white of the day (made with soya of course), reading a fairly interesting case file about a fellow who had been recorded by the many CCTVs roundabout London. Unfortunately for the client, he’d been taped with his zip open whilst fondling an impressive erection. Even less fortunately, the Crown was not amenable to letting the incident go by even though he claimed he’d been “pissed legless.”
Roxanne’s secretary stuck her head into the open doorway, her eyes round. “That prat Darlingside has gotten himself arrested again.”
“Oh, happy day.” Roxy wiped her mouth with a hanky. “What is it this time? Dead drunk? Car crash?”
“No, it’s more serious. Unless someone’s having a go at us.”
“Not chundering onto some poor copper’s shoes?” That had been a memorable case.
Roxy sat up straighter. She’d been White, Cheshire and Queen’s criminal defense specialist for four years, having left the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue more lucrative options. At WCQ, she’d had the opportunity to sample a more varied menu of cases than she’d expected. Along with the anticipated tax avoidance schemes and family squabbles regarding bequests—which occasionally devolved into wine-throwing and fistfights—a prominent client occasionally committed the odd sexual peccadillo, like the fellow diddling his dong in Notting Hill.
And then there was Peter Fortune, the Earl of Darlingside, who seemed intent upon imitating his parents’ strikingly self-destructive ways.
Bless him—he’d brought her a case she could really sink her teeth into. “Where’s he being held?”