Title: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author: Serpentis lord_alexander
Pairing: Monaboyd and others.
Summary: A beautiful heiress dies in suspicious circumstances, so who dunnit? The mysterious Styles Hall holds more secrets than even Inspector Boyd could dream of; deviance, Bolshevism, and a young man with silver rings on his fingers who holds the key to everything.
Disclaimer: If I was, I'd be God, or Agatha Christie. Who is dead.
Feedback: is smarter than Hercule Poirot and cleverer than Miss Marple.
Author's Notes: Attack of the Mutant Crossover Bunnies, sort of. This is a strange AU fic set in the late 1920s, and which takes rather too many cues from the marvellous and splendid Agatha Christie, queen of the gentle and upper-class detective murder novel. The title is a rip-off of one of her earlier works, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, starring one of my personal heroes, Poirot.
Inspector Boyd was small, Scottish, and out of place.
The circles in which he moved were of the upper-crust, of aristocratic laughter and tennis, tea on the lawn and village-cricket with the vicar. These were dreamy, sunlit days with ladies in knee-length skirts and their hair bobbed short, louche men in lounge suits who drove two seater convertibles, elegance and modernism and bright young things that sparkled and glittered in the halls of the mighty. Following the Great War, that which ended all Wars, these were days of heady optimism that drifted like the smoke of elegant black Russian cigarettes, accompanied by the delicate tinkle of Clarice Clift geometric crockery and the strains of jazz on trumpeted gramophones.
And William Boyd found that he was as different from those he associated with as a thoroughbred from a carthorse.
He didn't have the style, the effortless loping grace of tall Eton-haired blond men in their Oxford bags or plus-fours. They were all ease and laughter, racy and uncaring in turn. He didn't support Bolshevism or this new Fascism come from Italy; he voted Liberal and was proud of it. A father in trade, a mother a housewife, long dead and leaving him and a sister. Billy was so painfully aware of his own ordinariness that he thought that sometimes becoming a policeman was more a social move to have some power over those who he envied and half-hated rather than any urge to uphold the law. The accent was wrong, pure Glasgow that rang strangely with the English voices of those he interacted, the smile was too intense, too real, Billy wasn't false. He was a decent, hard-working man in his mid thirties who had battled his way to being Inspector and was bloody good at his job.
Of course he had Bean assisting.
Tall to Billy's neat height, broad to the slimness of the Scot, unashamed of his Sheffield accent, Bean - Captain Bean if the past was taken into account, for he'd been pure military until being invalided out of service after catching 'flu in 1918 - was gruff, taciturn and as bloody good a policeman as Billy. Sean was the rougher side, he looked as if he'd take pleasure in belabouring suspects into confessing, but it was more appearance than reality. Underneath the slowness of Yorkshire speech and a surprisingly dazzling grin he was quick-minded and far more able than Billy to see the darker side of those they came into contact with.
"So, who's dead this time?" Bean always summed things up almost callously.
"A young American woman, she was staying over at Styles Hall in Thornton-le-Hardy. Twenty six, unmarried, found strangled to death in her own bed. No sign of a struggle so..."
"She knew the murderer then?"
"Aye." Billy flicked through the paperwork, the reports from the forensic investigators, the preliminary interviews with the household, and rubbed his forehead. He looked tired, shadowed under the eyes from lack of sleep. Policework was his life, and was his mistress. She demanded. Being so bloody good meant his time was required not only in the Devonshire constabulary but surrounding shires, even in London if the larger cases in the county needed the Met involvement.
Getting to his feet, suit rumpled but suiting him, Bean seized his rather fashionable homburg and set it upon his blondish hair at a rakish angle. "Let's get this bugger out the way. Then we can go to the pub, what you reckon?"
Styles Hall was an ugly edifice, disfigured by too many jarring styles of architecture, though the overall mess was grand and forbidding like an elderly dowager who was trying to be fashionable. The essential Elizabethan shell had been added to in the Palladian style, and then high Victorian, and the result had been an ugly, squat wedding-cake of a facade, with mock-Greek columns and terraces, a vaguely Capability Brown air to the parkland surrounding, and the forlorn peep of latticed windows. Billy hated the place even before setting foot in the echoing hall where sunlight didn't seem to permeate.
It felt ten degrees colder than outside in the gloomy slab-floored chamber. The butler, massive and bearded with a whisper of a Welsh accent, ushered them into a drab morning room and departed to tell the master of the house that the policemen had arrived.
"All done up like a tart, but a raddled old one at that," murmured Bean, referring to the house. There was dust on the heavy velvet drapes, the settee upon which they were perched was threadbare. This was smart neglect on an impressive scale, as if the owner was too chic to worry about the furnishings. "Wonder if it's lack of cash or too much tradition?"
The butler threw back the door, an elegant though rather self-satisfied older man dressed perfectly in cream linen entered, and smiled at them both. Billy rather felt as if the dissipated blue eyes, set into what must have once been a devastatingly beautiful face, were crawling over them both like insects. Cream linen, polished brown leather brogues, white shirt and exquisitely knotted tie. The man knew how to make an entrance, silver hair gleaming, hands held out in greeting.
"My dear dear fellows, thank you for coming to us today, this terrible, dreadful day." He had a thrilling rich voice, gloriously spoken, but Billy was aware that it was almost too perfect, this facade was almost false. He shook hands though, as did Sean, they were seated though the distaste on the other man's face was apparent as he regarded the dusty upholstery of the high-backed armchair. "I must apologise for this room, we are quite in a quandary over what to do with this place. I have not long come here from London, I inherited this old pile from an elderly uncle who simply let it just rot and go to ruin. Do you think sage green, or is that too dark a colour for such a north-facing room?"
The expression on Sean's face was such that Billy almost caught the giggles, but he mastered his twitching mouth and slipped into professional detachment.
"Thank you for coming to see us, Mr...?"
"McKellen. Sir Ian McKellen."
"Obviously you know why we're here, and I hope that the instructions that no one leave this house until the investigation is finished have been heeded."
"Of course. Dearest Elijah is frantic to get home to his mother, she's terribly famous and simply won't have her darling little cherub in a house where there might be a murderer..."
The old poof's less lacking than he seems, Billy thought, watching the knight's eyes. They were sparkling and overlaid with sympathy, but the sarcastic bent was there. A wily old man.
"Could you take us through what happened that night?" asked Bean, who was receiving admiring glances. Definitely an old poof.
"Of course. We'd just had dinner, I think it was lamb though you'll have to ask Davies, he will provide you with the menu, and were retiring to the parlour for after dinner games as is our little wont. Dear Olivia, such a beautiful girl, had said she was suffering a little from stomach pains. Had been ever since we came to Devonshire really, the whole summer. She'd taken a tonic before dinner and then afterwards retired to bed feeling unwell and we all were in the sitting room in the east wing, taking part in whichever activity that we wished to delight in. At about nine thirty Orlando said he was going to check to see how Olivia was, we all thought that she'd gone to sleep, before there was a ghastly commotion and he came pounding back down to announce, terribly dramatic, that she was dead. That was when we telephoned for the police."
"He's a sharp one and no mistake. At least he said about the stomach pains; the autopsy report'll show if there was anything there that could have killed her." Sean and Billy had retreated to the kitchens for a cup of tea and a sandwich before furthering their enquiries. As part of the process Sir Ian had insisted that they stay as guests in Styles Hall, and they had been allotted rooms in one of the wings. Sean had already become so hopelessly lost that he had to be rescued by a small and amused American boy with large eyes who'd said his name was Elijah, winked at the Yorkshireman, and had disappeared. “He’s not what he says he is, I bet he wasn't born a sir. He's just a bit too perfect in what he does and says, and how he dresses. He's a bit..."
"Nouveaux riches?" said a low, laughing voice that was as rough as Sean's, and they turned to see a man with pale topaz eyes and curling dark hair, smiling close-mouthed at them from across the kitchen. The way he was dressed - in trousers, a shirt with an open throat, boots - showed that he wasn't at all the usual sort of guest to be found in such a grand house. "'Horribly nouveaux riches, is McKellen. His Granddad made a fortune up in Lancashire I think, in the mills, bloody capitalist. Ian's inherited the lot from his uncle and 'is Dad, and 'as come down to Devonshire for the summer with us lot." He had the sort of intensity surrounding him that revolutionaries wished they could be imbued with.
"Who're you?" Bean looked the other up and down as the dark-haired man, gargolylesque but attractive enough, stubbled across the jaw, came to sit with them.
"Andy. Your local Bolshevik and revolutionary, at your service. I'm the sort of bloke your Mum warned you about."
Billy rather liked him. Much of the opinion was to do with the way the man seemed to glory in his own difference and not give a damn about what others thought. He also proved an effective and wickedly-tongued gossip.
"You got Ian, who's the owner, and Orlando who's as pretty as a picture but as boring as watching paint dry. There's Elijah, his Mum's this famous Yank film star, she was dead well known during the War, his mate Dominic who's a crafty little bugger with a smart trap on him, who else? Oh, Davies the butler. Me, your local troublemaker. Oh, Sean, he's Elijah's valet, another Yank. And then there was Liv. Nice girl, huge..." and he gave a wicked grin. "Smile on her. Token woman. She had her friend with her until a few weeks ago, Australian girl, bit cold that one. Cate, think she said her name was. Liv was lovely, got a bit thin but then the cooking isn't all that great."
Andy sipped his milky tea before looking up at the two policemen, eyes like stars.
"'Course, everyone's at it apart from me and Dom. It's more likely to be a crime passionelle rather than a simple killing; Orlando fancied her something rotten, which Ian hated as he and Orli are together. Elijah and Sean should be if they aren't, but Liv had a lot of money for the lad who'd marry her. Davies knows everything, including where to get the penicillin when someone gets the pox. Cate was sweet on Liv if I'm not mistaken, she got a bit twitchy when we was close to them. Dom's Dom, he's a good kid, couldn't see him doing it in a million. I don't tend to murder people, apart from Fascists and Conservatives, possibly the odd anti-Semite."
The Scotsman ended up writing at the bottom of the page in his notebook that if he didn't know better then he would have thought this Londoner had a little pash for Dom, whoever Dom was. The smart-mouthed one, yes, but that wasn't much to go on. Next to him Sean was wondering quite how many effeminates you could get in one house, and quelled the urge to hide behind Billy. He wasn't as at ease with the perversions of the upper-classes as Billy, who was far more talented at hiding his disgust at these sorts of things. After all, Sir Ian, he recalled with a twist of his mouth, had that knack of making one feel undressed with his blue, amused eyes.
"Think he talked too much," was Bean's opinion of Serkis, the blond lighting a cigarette. They were gathering before dinner; Sean and Billy in a corner of the cavernous library. The Scot, fascinated by the vast array of books lining all four walls had found a first edition of Pride and Prejudice, another of the Communist Manifesto. Whoever had collected the tomes had eclectic, ironic, and non-discerning taste - there was a small but fascinating section of Le Sade in the original French back to back with several Bibles, and Chaucer jostled for position beside Dante.
"Maybe a bit too useful. Never trust people who talk too much."
Billy sighed, crossing his legs neatly and resting back in the green wingbacked armchair. The effect of the room, with the bindings and dark wood to the shelves and floor, the comfortable settees and the reading lamps was of an exclusive gentlemen's club, the type that policemen only entered on official business.
He was watching the others, who were scattered about the room laughing and conversing, trying to figure them out. The tall, dark-haired boy that had McKellen caressing his long thigh had to be Orlando, a short and wide-eyed American obviously Elijah, though the valet, of course, was no where to be seen. With Andrew was a attractive-ugly young man with a snub nose, the Dominic that Serkis probably fancied. A strange group indeed, all effortlessly handsome in their dinner jackets, languidly smoking.
Dominic had silver rings on his long fingers.
When he laughed the corners of his mouth twitched into a wicked grin.
"Better get interviews with the rest of them tomorrow."
Seated next to Dominic, Billy had to admit that he was rather enjoying himself. While McKellen was the perfect host he rather guarded his dark-haired boy - pretty, but rather bland, a little too attractive - as if at any moment someone would steal in and take Orlando from his side. They made a little covern with a shockingly beautiful woman who had arrived as the bell rang for dinner, as if it was known that Cate wouldn't try and seduce what wasn't her property. She had shimmied in to the dining room in her evening gown, glowing silver, had accepted a cigar from Sir Ian, and they were discussing the London scene and people of rank and power whose names were known to all but moved in higher circles than the others that were at dinner.
Next to Dominic, opposite Sean who was frankly fascinated with Elijah, Andrew taking the end of the table from whence came sharp as knives sarcasm and slightly worrying table manners.
"I'm not posh, I just eat," he'd announced, devouring his asparagus with the licking of buttery fingers. Everyone else lapped the butter from their own digits, but Serkis seemed to have a lower-class sensuality about the way he devoured the spears, broke his bread, held the red wine glass by the stem and not the bowl.
Dominic laughed, a low and slightly husky note to the sound, forking up the fish that followed. Deft hands, Billy wondered why he was noticing hands, the silver rings that shouldn't look masculine but did glittering in the low electric light. Close up he was far more handsome than Boyd had thought, that slightly sulky air broken by the chuckling and the constant talk, the waving of hands, those grins that shone like one hundred watt light bulbs. The dinner jacket showed a lean, fit body and the suggestion of a rounded pair of buttocks encased in the black wool, collar opened by the second course, the bow tie laying undone about his throat.
"You're just scum, you filthy commie!"
"Won't say that when you're as proletariat as the rest of us, Monaghan."
The voice was accented, not Yorkshire, a little more south than that, harsher than Bean's mellifluous Sheffield, and low and caressing. Billy wondered if he was homosexual like the others in the room appeared to be, just an idle little thought that had no consequence but was something he dwelled on.
Elijah, who had as bad table manners as Serkis and was resting his elbows on the white table linen, was giggling. Slightly drunk, cheeks flushed, he resembled a impish young boy, though he spoke rather more cynically than one so young should have. There was a hardness there, an ambition, and Billy wondered if that was through having a sinfully famous actress mother.
"I say, you wouldn't have your sort in America, Serkis, you're far too revolutionary for us!"
"Says the young man whose country was founded on one," shot back Serkis, grinning.
"You goshdamned Communists aren't too popular!"
Sensing an interesting argument brewing, Sir Ian gave a fond smile at the slightly rowdy younger men gathered at the lower reaches of the long walnut table. Billy wondered if he was going to patronise, it looked that way, that smile...
"Now, Andy, you know perfectly well what I think of Communism."
"Sir Ian," explained the Londoner, "is a supporter of Mussolini and that German chap, what's his name again?"
"Hitler," Bean finished, the faintest rise of his eyebrows showing exactly what he thought of that.
"Anti-Semite, and right-wing, what is there to like about him, but then I forget, Sir Ian is a friend of Sir Oswald, aren't you?"
The older man smiled, that almost annoying little smirk that made Billy's flesh crawl. "And a perfectly acceptable and sensible way forward it is too, Andy. Look at Italy - look at the progress she's made. And Herr Hitler wishes to bring Germany back into some semblance of a working state after the Treaty of Versailles was so very unfair. You can't deny that wanting to better a country is a noble act?"
Andy shrugged, cutting up the tender lamb that was the main course. Billy and Sean were just observing, wanting to see these people in their natural habitat. If that was arguing, and a political divide, then they weren't going to stop them at all with interjecting with their own views.
Elijah had gone to bed, as had Orlando and Ian. Cate had drifted back to her own lodgings, as ice-maidenly as the Snow Queen. The dark haired young man had been almost silent at dinner, though he did agree with everything his patron said. This, however, according to the Serkis gossip machine, was normal. Indeed, the chatter about the other inhabitants of the Hall was added to, and rather amusingly, by the presence of Dominic. They had retired to the library with brandy snifters and were working their way down a rather expensive bottle of the finest Napoleonic era beverage, and were slowly unwinding.
Bean swirled the golden liquid in the balloon glass, a cigarette in his hand, looking shrewdly at Andy and Dominic - who had asked them both to call him Dom as the full name was far too much of a mouthful for after dinner. Ties were undone, collars loosened, they looked for all intents and purposes as if they should be in White's after going to see a play.
"Everyone is a homosexual?"
"Aye, disgusting, aren't we?"
Billy thanked God that he hadn't been drinking at that moment as Dom's reply was both cheeky and challenging, and there was a slight note of almost warning in what he was saying.
"Going to round us up, Inspector, and have us sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading Gaol?"
Oscar Wilde references, of course, Billy smiling slightly at the slight look of confusion on Sean's face as he sought to place that, and then the slight darkening as it clicked. He'd never really discovered what his associate thought about homosexuality, it not really being mentioned. There had always been that half-air of dislike teamed with a faint fascination with the acts that occurred within the sexual union of two men, and Billy hadn't pushed it. He knew that if he raised it, such a strange topic of conversation, Bean would want to know why it was being discussed.
If that occurred then Billy would have to clam up tighter than a mussel and not allow his own homosexuality to be mentioned. There'd never been a girl to be ragged about, or a wife, no sweetheart who sent him to work with sandwiches and a kiss. No woman had ever been in his life, and few men, for the lot of a policeman was not a happy one, especially that of a successful inspector in the Devonshire Constabulary. A dalliance or two, always with fellow policemen, those who understood the rigours of the job. While Boyd enjoyed these little tete au tetes, he didn't allow a greater feeling other than mutual gratification between him and another. Married to the job - no room for another in such a love affair.
The ignominy of being arrested for deviance by his own officers would destroy him, Billy knew that.
"We're not here to investigate perversions, Mr Monaghan."
Dom stood, all lean limbs and youthful movement, the slight stubble at his jaw showing he hadn't shaved, before he gave them all a mocking, elegant bow. "Excuse me, sirs, I'm going to powder my nose."
One excuse later, to get his own cigarette case, and Billy was following Dom.
The first suspicious sign was the fact that the young man didn't go to the nearest bathroom, but climbed to the third floor, where the bedrooms were. The second, and most shocking, saw Dom emerge from Miss Olivia's room, a handkerchief in one hand, glancing about him. Seeing if he was being watched. Billy managed to hide himself in a small alcove and didn't breathe until the other entered his room.
The thought made him feel faintly queasy.
Getting the cigarette case, Billy slipped it into his pocket and was just closing the door when that low Lancaster voice rolled over him like smoke from a few feet to the left.
"You were watching me."
Ice trickled down his spine; he'd been careful! He'd been sure he'd not been seen, and he turned to tell Dom that he was being ridiculous when the younger man was closer. Too close, almost, and Billy's heart gave a lurch into his throat. So close, and Dom had long eyelashes and kitten-blue eyes, his mouth set in a line and a grave expression lowering his slanting eyebrows.
"You were watching me, Inspector."
For the first time in his entire career, Billy thought he was going to be hurt. That look, the darkening gaze, the sulking narrowing of lips, and he was going to be killed by someone who was beautiful. Thought unbidden, the idea grew heated, before dying away in a melting frisson of horror. There was something almost erotic about the way that the promise of death was balancing on a knife edge, that sick feeling of arousal that caressed the nape of his neck and brought him out into a light sweat.
Dom smiled then, the expression not changing, just that half-angry and half-wild watchful gaze of a hunter before the space between them closed and they were flush. Being so close in height was agony, the curve of Billy's groin thrust against the young man's own, and he realised with a gasp and a flutter of eyelids that under the wool of the black trousers Monaghan had an erection.
"Think I killed her?"
Pressure. Sweet, blazing pressure making him press back without thinking, cock lengthening in his own trousers so that with each tiny increase with pressure the blood accumulated there. They were rocking, faintly, floorboards sighing under the shifting weight of their shoes, Billy flat against the wall now, the coolness of the creamy paint leeching into his shirt cuffs. The more they moved, the more he lost his ability to think, hands slithering down the expensive fabric of Dom's dinner jacket, cupping the generous, round arse so they were grinding together.
"Think I filled her pretty stomach fill of arsenic?"
The words were a whisper of suggestion against his ear, Billy keening and letting his head fall to the side as the other ran his tongue down the long stem of the jugular, from earlobe to shirt collar. Salt tasting, and damp, nervous skin. Dom seemed to delight in it, sucking lightly, making Boyd twitch once more, fingers bruising the flesh he was gripping on to with a strange dominance, before they were both shuddering and swearing and climaxing with explosive force.
It was only the morning after - a sleepless night for Billy - that the lab report came through and Dominic's words echoed anew.
They'd found enough in Olivia's stomach to kill four men.
"He knew it was the arsenic."
Bean, even more taciturn than usual, grunted. He'd been fairly silent for the entire morning, leaving Billy to conduct the interviews, and the only solid evidence they had was of Dominic's knowledge of the powder.
The fact that he'd frotted himself to orgasm against the crotch of a murderer had knocked the usually merry Scot. If he thought of Dominic, he saw those greyish blue eyes heavy lidded with lust as they clung together, the tongue laving his skin, the want to do more. Kisses, and touches to naked skin, Billy finding himself wondering how those long fingers would feel preparing him. Would the silver be cold against his needy body? How would Dom masturbate him, and caress him? Knocked for six and flailing - this never usually happened, this desperation - Billy threw himself into his work and tried his damndest to find the killer.
Dom couldn't be the murderer. He couldn't, it was wrong. The motive wasn't there, but then they had nothing else to follow up, everyone else was watertight in their movements. Dom knew the means, and he had been into Olivia's room, something expressedly forbidden by the police.
He rested his chin on his hands, and then looked over at his friend.
"Call them all in, Bean."
The library, always the library in these cases. Orlando looked startled and faintly petulant, Sir Ian's hand on his thigh again. Really, their relationship was so very obvious that Billy wondered at them not being pursued by the police for their deviance. Things had changed though, since Wilde's day, and perhaps outside this ugly hall they were far more discreet in their affair. Oddly, in the light of day, Orlando was less attractive, a little more tired and worn. Interesting, perhaps, and Billy's mind ticked over that.
There was something important, something there, and he'd not quite made the connexion yet. The Scot's mind itched with it, and he wracked and roiled his thought processes, but nothing was forthcoming.
Cate, all tweed nipped in at the waist, in her jodhpurs and long brown leather boots, was smoking a cigar, her blue eyes staring unblinkingly at the two policemen. She'd been summoned, but had been caught not at home, her charming rose-petalled cottage empty as Bean had knocked on the door, but ten minutes search had found her on her bay gelding conversing with the local parson.
Not sitting but staying close to his valet, Astin, and Davies the Welsh butler who were attentive near the door in case refreshment was needed, Elijah seemed a ball of energy. They'd discovered far more was shared between the two Americans other than nationality; Astin kept the young man stable, curbed his excesses, and was so very close to him that though they were not a couple it seemed a likely future event. Not that Billy begrudged them that - a solid middle-class man like Astin, sensible, almost fatherly, was what a flighty and rather childish boy needed to keep his feet grounded. After all, Elijah's father had divorced his mother, he'd been sent to England for schooling which was where he'd met Orlando and how he was associated with Sir Ian.
And there? There was the murderer. Grinning at Serkis, who looked unshaved and more bohemian than ever, Dominic was the picture of relaxation though at his temple a vein throbbed noticeably.
It was wrong. Something was wrong and Billy couldn't put a mental finger on that which was bothering him.
"We had the results back from our laboratory in regards to how Miss Tyler died. They were positive for arsenic. So much arsenic that she would have died fairly quickly after the drug was administrated, which is why she felt unwell after dinner. Our pathologist informs us that it would have been an agonising and painful death and we know that the murderer is in this room. The severity of the crime means we're confident that we're going to get the death penalty on this one."
Such harsh words, even in Bean's roughish Yorkshire, and Billy was still thinking, thinking as his colleague talked. He'd been quiet all the morning, with tiredness and guilt and that hellish realisation that while he wanted more from Dom even though he was the number one suspect. The interviews necessary but hated. Dom had smiled his way through the interview, had said that he'd just popped into Miss Olivia's room to pay his respects, hence the hankie he'd been crying in to, but it had been said almost carelessly, amusedly. No explanation for it, and the three in the room at the time had all known that the young man wasn't the sort to spontaneously weep in the room of a woman he'd known a very short time.
There was no motive!
"So, Mr Bean, who was it?" Orlando was actually speaking, with a pleasant and warm voice, looking very anxious.
Then it hit him.
She'd taken a tonic before dinner.
Sean was about to unveil the murderer when Billy clutched his arm tightly, vice-like and enough to bruise, which stopped the Yorkshireman in his tracks.
"Sir Ian, you said that Miss Olivia had taken a tonic before she went to bed, is that correct?"
The man nodded.
"Who prepared it for her?"
"I did," announced Cate, staring boldly at Billy. "She gave me a phial, a powder that her physician gave her in New York to settle any seasickness, and asked if I would be a dear and prepare it for her. Said if it settled stomachs on board ship it should be perfectly suited for indigestion. So I did. You are saying that was what killed her, aren't you? And I suppose you'll arrest me for murder since it was my hands who made the blasted stuff in the first place? It looked like Epsom salts to me, something to dose the horses with when they have gastric trouble, so I gave her a decent dose of it." She sat back in her chair, crossing her arms across her chest, as if daring Billy to say anything to her.
"We're not accusing you." Billy's tone was careful. "Sir Ian told me that...hang on, it's here somewhere..." He flipped through his blue-leather backed notepad, finding the entry written in his usual shorthand. "Suffering stomach pains - that's why we suspected arsenic. But it says here that Miss Olivia had suffered them for a long time before you met her, Miss Blanchett, so even if you did accidentally administer that last dose, it has been a long-term effect."
Bean seemed to shake himself suddenly, before turning, hands clutching at Billy's arms. "Bloody hell, it's fuckin' suicide!" He didn't even pardon himself. "She's been dosing herself...Andrew said she'd got thin. She's been poisoning herself with the bastard stuff and no one knew!"
"So that wraps that up, then? Accidental death, people take arsenic for the strangest things sometimes..."
A faint cough from the settee at which Serkis and Monaghan were, before the darker stood, and grinned. "Not quite. Miss Blanchett? We're arresting you on suspicion of the theft of jewellery from several large London stores, with your accomplice, entering the country under a false name, fraud, and deception."
Everyone turned, including the woman, who'd gone paler than even her translucent skin tone could cope with, a hectic blush descending with shocking suddenness. Andrew seemed to be enjoying this, his eyes glowing, hands in his pockets, a scruffy policeman in the guise of a Bolshevik.
"Inspector Serkis, my colleague Inspector Monaghan, from the Met. Sorry lads, couldn't tell you - our cover'd be blown if you was in on it. Nice going though, we're right impressed, especially as you didn't know about why she could have committed suicide. Miss Tyler was tryin' to build up a resistance to the drug, didn't know it hangs around and kills you eventually, especially with an accidentally large dose...accidental, Miss Blanchett?"
The red-haired woman stood, eyes blazing, like some proud Valkerie. "Liv couldn't have coped with gaol, Serkis, you filthy little common man. She dragged herself out of poverty once and couldn't have coped with it again. You all sit here, in your beautiful houses and eating and drinking the best food, and of course we wanted a little bit of what you lot always bloody had! So we set ourselves up as Liv being a young American heiress, me her friend, we started making friends with the rich and successful, easy enough if you've sold a few pieces of jewellery you stole. Money makes the world go around, and once these two..." Cate gestured at Ian and Orlando. "Once they heard that there was a rich, beautiful young heiress on the market, Daddy has lots of land in the Hamptons and Mummy is a friend of the Roosevelts, they couldn't stop themselves sniffing around. After all, they might be inverts but they always love money! Marry Orlando off to some poor rich sap and then use her cash to fund their own lifestyle, how very droll. But then we turned the tables on them, didn't we? Because to accumulate, you have to speculate, and how they spent money on trying to capture Liv. A diamond necklace, a smart little car, clothes and shoes, that cottage for her close friend who had so much influence on her, coming down to Devon to show off what'd be the marital home. And admittance of the deviance of you two, making Liv know that she was needed not for her money but to hide your sordid little affair! Liars! Cheats!"
"We knew today would happen sometime. My Liv couldn't have done with this, she couldn't have coped. I'm glad she's dead. Glad! Because at least now she won't suffer being dragged through the courts and vilified for the world to mock! I loved her too much to let her have gone through that, though I didn't know that the arsenic, that she was using it to build up a resistance. Stupid, foolish girl..."
The question remained, however - how did Dom know?
He grinned, impish, and Billy wanted to move across the room and bury his mouth against the clean curve of the younger man's throat.
"Girls keep and hide diaries. That's why I was in her room, Boyd. Fingerprinted the bottle, and only her own and a few of Miss Blanchett's came up, and then found her diary. Took both as evidence though, hope you don't mind? It's got enough to satisfy the inquest into her death and to lock away the jewellery thief as well. We been chasing them for about a year and a half now."
Boyd took a good mouthful of his pint, relaxing onto the narrow wooden bench for the first time since the case began. Casual now, in a thick Arran-knit jersey and trousers, shirt collar underneath unbuttoned and with a cigarette in his hand he looked as local as the others in the Royal Oak, though the accent as usual was out of place.
"Bill?" Bean, in his customary grey casual suit, the fedora placed carefully on the table out of the way of the overflowing ashtray, was still rather quiet.
"You think that It can rub off on you?"
Whatever Sean was talking of, the faint, erotic image of grinding against Monaghan and climaxing in his trousers was something that sprang to mind when those words were mentioned. He blushed with it, cursing his newly liberated mind. Billy had been to bed with men before, brief, almost silent matters that were pinked with embarrassment and guilt. That one encounter, burned into his frontal lobes, was the single most sexually perfect moment he'd ever known. It was schoolboy lust in a corridor, groping and thrusting, but there had been no shame in it for either of them, probably because of Dominic's blasé thoughts on it.
"Can what rub off on you?"
"Being..." Bean leaned over the table, whispering. "Being queer."
"...why's this, Sean?"
Laughter, a London accented voice ordering pints with whisky chasers, and the light seemed to dim as Andy and Dom wandered over. They were grinning, almost complicit, Sean slowly turning to see them before their table was invaded.
When Dom curled his long legs over the bench, the lack of room pressed their thighs tight together, hip bones brushing as they jostled for room.
When he looked at Sean and Andy, they were smiling slowly at each other until the Yorkshireman had to look away and for some reason that he couldn't fathom out, they looked oddly comfortable together. They, extraordinarily, fitted like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle; broad blond Sean and the leaner, rather commonly muscled Andy. Gentlemen didn't have shoulders like that.
Dom leaned over, voice so low that the sounds could hardly be discerned.
"Got a few days off for being good boys. Fancy showing me the sights of the area, preferably starting with your bedroom?"
The boldness so shocked Billy that he had already agreed before he realised, and the briefest slide of a hand between his thighs was a bliss of electrical impulse pleasures that sparked and twisted over sensitised flesh. It felt oddly correct though, to be in a public house with a policeman's hand caressing him intimately, though he knew it wasn't a new acceptance for his sexuality.
It was all due to Dom.