Who put her in? By Jane Jago
Length: 417 pages
When Ben and Joss Beckett are brought in to rescue a failing business, they don’t expect it to be a dangerous assignment. But fate has other ideas; they encounter sexual deviancy, vengeful spirits, and public servants whose probity is highly questionable. In a shattering climax Joss finds herself having to face down a stone-cold killer
Will was just getting out of his car. He looked awful. I ran down the steps and grasped him by the arm.
‘Come in and sit down before you fall down.’
He opened his mouth and I shushed him gently.
‘Not a word until you are sitting down with a coffee in your hand and you have eaten at least two biscuits.’
I steered him to the kitchen, where Ben took one look at his ravaged face and pulled out a chair. We got him seated with a large coffee at his elbow and I more or less force fed him chocolate biscuits until a little bit of colour returned to his cheeks.
‘Okay’ I said ‘now you can talk.’
He took a huge breath and let it out slowly. ‘It’s Philip. He’s dead.’
‘What? Philip from the Fair Maid? Dead? How?’
‘Yes. That Philip. Suicide. Yesterday. He went down to the boat they keep on the Hamble and hung himself in the boat shed.’
‘Oh fuck. Did he leave a note?’
‘No. But Caroline swears it was the work of a ghost. She’s been carted off to hospital in a state of complete collapse.’
I got up and marched around the room kicking furniture. Will looked at me in amazement.
‘It’s OK’ Ben explained. ‘She’s just seen our holiday in the Spanish sun go down the toilet. So she’s letting off steam.’
Ben sagged in his chair like a leaky balloon. ‘Does that mean you’ll do it? I didn’t know how I was going to ask.’
I looked at Ben who nodded soberly, then answered Will.
‘Yes. We’ll do it. But. How bad is it?’
He sat up straighter in his chair. ‘Frankly. Fucking terrible. The business is about to go tits-up in a dramatic fashion if somebody doesn’t intervene. Joan had forty fits about the dirt, the state of the office, and the morale of the staff, but that’s only the surface stuff. If you two really will come take over I’ll provide the money while you turn things around. Then we can stick the business on the market. That idiot Caroline wouldn’t be able to run it even if she was willing.’
Ben spoke up. ‘Three questions. One: is the place mortgaged? Two: who inherits? Three: who is the executor of the will?’
‘No mortgage, though it was about to come to the stage where they’d have had to raise some money somehow. Caroline gets everything, eventually, but it’s going to be complicated and messy. And I’m the sole executor of the will.’
‘Good. I’m assuming that means nobody will interfere with our running of the joint. I won’t put us in the position of trying to turn around a failing business for someone else’s benefit with the added pressure of people breathing down our necks.’
‘No indeed.’ I echoed his sentiments.
‘I can see that. And nobody had better interfere. Will your usual monthly fee, plus a five per cent success bonus when the place sells be OK?’
Ben nodded. ‘I assume we and the dogs can live in the private house. I don’t want to be in the Winnie for months in the worst weather.’
‘No. I’m sure you don’t. Joan is there now, with three of our girls, mucking out, and packing up Philip and Caroline’s personal possessions.’
‘Is Joan all right?’ I asked.
‘She is. Shocked. But not really upset. It’s hard to grieve for a pompous asshole who made your sister’s life a misery.’
‘Any particular sort of making a misery’ I asked.
‘Women mostly. That and bullying and undermining. And a lot of verbal nastiness.’
‘Physical?’ Ben asked.
‘I don’t think so. Neither does Joan.’
‘Why’d she stay with him?’ I mused.
‘Because everyone told her he was an asshole before she married him. But she carried on and did it. If she left him it would mean admitting she was wrong. Not something she could even think about doing.’
‘No. I got that on a very short acquaintance. But won’t she interfere with us?’
‘No. Joan and I are prepared to stand surety for that.’
‘Okay then.’ I turned a weary face to Ben. ‘Tomorrow?’
‘Yeah. The sooner the better.’
I walked into his arms and he hugged me. ‘I know love. Our first proper holiday in five years.’ I sniffed a bit and he handed me a handkerchief.
Will looked uncomfortable. ‘Look you two, if it’s too much…’
‘No’ I managed. ‘It’ll be fine. I’m just a bit sad about that Spanish sun.’ Stan and Ollie got out of their basket and came over to find out what I was upset about and I rubbed their silky ears. ‘It’s okay. I’m just being silly.’ Then I chuckled. ‘Gnomes to piss on boys.’
Will gave an involuntary snort of laughter. ‘They didn’t! Not on Caroline’s precious gnomes.’
‘Of course they did’ Ben’s voice was full of amusement. ‘Ollie even managed to poo on the one face down in the grass. But it was raining so hard it washed away.’
By this time Will was really laughing. ‘Oh you have no idea how much good that does me. My dear sister-in-law even has names for the little plastic bastards.’