Dreaming of the Bones (Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James Series #5)by Deborah Crombie
It is the call Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid never expected -- and one he certainly doesn't want. Victoria, his ex-wife, who walked out without an explanation more than a decade ago, asks him to look into the suicide of local poet, Lydia Brooke -- a case that's been officially closed for five years. The troubled young writer's death, Victoria claims, might well have been murder.
No one is more surprised than Kincaid himself when he agrees to investigate -- not even his partner and lover, Sergeant Gemma James. But it's a second death that raises the stakes and plunges Kincaid and James into a labyrinth of dark lies and lethal secrets that stretches all the way back through the twentieth century -- a death that most assuredly is murder, one that has altered Duncan Kincaid's world forever.
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Where Beauty and Beauty meet
All naked, fair to fair,
The earth is crying-sweet,
And scattering bright the air,
Eddying, dizzying, closing round,
With soft and drunken laughter;
Veiling all that may befall
The post slid through the letter box, cascading onto the tile floor of the entry hall with a sound like the wind rustling through bamboo. Lydia Brooke heard the sound from the breakfast room, where she sat with her hands wrapped round her teacup. With her morning tea long gone cold, she lingered, unable to choose between the small actions that would decide the direction of her day.
Through the French doors at the far end of the room, she could see chaffinches pecking at the ground beneath the yellow blaze of forsythia, and in her mind she tried to put the picture into words. It was habit, almost as automatic as breathing, this search for pattern, meter, cadence, but today it eluded her. Closing her eyes, she tilted her face up towards the weak March sun slanting through the windows set high in the vaulted room.
She and Morgan had used his small inheritance to add this combination kitchen/dining area to the Victorian terraced house. It jutted into the back garden, all glass and clean lines and pale wood, a monument to failed hopes. The plans they'd had to modernize the rest of the house had somehow never materialized. The plumbing still leaked, the rose-patterned wallpaper peeled delicately from the walls in the entry hall, the cracks in the plasterwork spread like aging veins, the radiator hissed and rumbled like some subterranean beast. Lydia had grown used to the defects, had come to findan almost perverse sort of comfort in them. It meant she was coping, getting on with things, and that was, after all, what was expected of one, even when the day stretching ahead seemed an eternity.
She pushed away her cold cup and rose, tightening the belt of her dressing gown around her slight body as she padded barefoot towards the front of the house. The tile felt gritty beneath her feet and she curled her toes as she knelt to gather the post. One envelope outweighed the rest, and the serviceable brown paper bore her solicitor's return address. She dropped the other letters in the basket on the hall table and ran her thumb carefully under the envelope's seal as she walked towards the back of the house.
Freed from its wrapping, the thick sheaf of papers unfolded in her hands and the words leapt out at her: IN THE MATTER OF THE MARRIAGE OF LYDIA LOVELACE BROOKE ASHBY AND MORGAN GABRIEL ASHBY...She reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped as her brain picked out words from among the legalese. FINAL DECREE...PETITION OF DIVORCE GRANTED THIS DAY...The pages slipped from her numb fingers, and it seemed to her that they drifted downwards, cradled on the air like feathers.
She had known it would come, had even thought herself prepared. Now she saw her hollow bravado with a sudden sickening clarity--her shell of acceptance had been fragile as the skin of algae on a pond.
After a long moment she began to climb the stairs slowly, her calves and thighs aching with the burden of each step. When she reached the first floor, she held on to the wall like an unsteady drunk as she made her way to the bathroom.
Shivering, shallow-breathed, she closed and locked the door. The motions required a deliberate concentration; her hands still felt oddly disconnected from her body. The bath taps next; she adjusted the temperature with the same care. Tepid--she'd read somewhere that the water should be tepid--and salts, yes, of course, she added the bath salts, now the water would be warm and saline, satin as blood.
Satisfied, she stood, and the deep blue silk of the dressing gown puddled at her feet. She stepped in and sank into the water, Aphrodite returning from whence she came, razor in hand.
* * *
Victoria McClellan lifted her hands from the keyboard, took a breath, and shook herself. What in hell had just happened to her? She was a biographer, for Christ's sake, not a novelist, and she'd never experienced anything like this, certainly never written anything like this. She had felt the water slide against her skin, had known the seductive terror of the razor.
She shivered. It was all absolute rubbish, of course. The whole passage would have to go. It was full of supposition, conjecture, and the loss of objectivity that was fatal to a good biography. Swiftly, she blocked the text, then hesitated with her finger poised over the delete key. And yet . . . maybe the more rational light of morning would reveal something salvageable. Rubbing her stinging eyes, she tried to focus on the clock above her desk. Almost midnight. The central heating in her drafty Cambridgeshire cottage had shut off almost an hour ago and she suddenly realized she was achingly cold. She flexed her stiff fingers and looked about her, seeking reassurance in familiarity.
The small room overflowed with the flotsam of Lydia Brooke's life, and Vic, tidy by nature, sometimes felt powerless before the onslaught of paper--letters, journals, photographs, manuscript pages, and her own index cards--all of which defied organization. But biography was an unavoidably messy job, and Brooke had seemed a biographer's dream, tailor-made to advance Vic's position in the English Faculty. A poet whose brilliance was surpassed only by the havoc of a personal life strewn with difficult relationships and frequent suicide attempts, Brooke survived the late-sixties episode in the bath for more than twenty years. Then, having completed her finest work, she died quietly from an overdose of heart medication.
The fact that Brooke had died just five years before allowed Vic access to Lydia's friends and colleagues as well as her papers. And while Vic had expected to be fascinated, she hadn't been prepared for Lydia to come alive. She'd seen Lydia's house--left to Morgan Ashby, the former husband, who'd leased it to a doctor with four small children. Littered with Legos and hobbyhorses, it had seemed to Vic to retain some indefinable imprint of Lydia's personality--yet even that odd phenomenon provided no explanation for what had begun to seem perilously close to possession.
Lydia Lovelace Brooke Ashby . . . Vic repeated the names in her mind, then added her own with an ironic smile. Victoria Potts Kincaid McClellan. Not as lyrical as Lydia's, but if you left off the Potts it had a bit of elegance. She hadn't thought much about her own divorce in the past few years--but perhaps her recent marital difficulties had caused her to identify so strongly with Lydia's pain. Recent marital difficulties, bloody hell, she thought with a sudden flash of anger. Couldn't she be honest even with herself? She'd been left, abandoned, just as Lydia had been left by Morgan Ashby, but at least Lydia had known where Morgan was--and Lydia hadn't a child to consider, she added as she heard the creak of Kit's bedroom door.
"Mum?" he called softly from the top of the stairs. Since Ian's disappearance, Kit had begun checking on her, as if afraid she might vanish, too. And he'd been having nightmares. She'd heard him whimper in his sleep, but when she questioned him about it he'd merely shaken his head in stoic pride.
"Be up in a tic. Go back to sleep, love." The old house groaned, responding to his footsteps, then seemed to settle itself to sleep again. With a sigh Vic turned back to the computer and pulled her hair from her face. If she didn't stop she wouldn't be able to get up for her early tutorial, but she couldn't seem to let go of that last image of Lydia. Something was nagging at her, something that didn't quite fit, and then with a feeling of quiet surprise she realized what it was, and what she must do about it.
Now. Tonight. Before she lost her nerve.
Pulling a London telephone book from the shelf above her desk, she looked up the number and wrote it down, deliberately, conscious of breathing in and out through her nose, conscious of her heart beating. She picked up the phone and dialed.
Gemma James put down the pen and wiggled her fingers, then raised her hand to her mouth to cover a yawn. She'd never thought she'd get her report finished, and now the tension flowed from her muscles. It had been a hard day, at the end of a difficult case, yet she felt a surprising surge of contentment. She sat curled at one end of Duncan Kincaid's sofa while he occupied the other. He'd shed his jacket, unbuttoned his collar, pulled down the knot on his tie, and he wrote with his legs stretched out, feet rather precariously balanced on the coffee table between the empty containers from the Chinese take-away.
Sid took up all the intervening sofa space, stretched on his back, eyes half-slitted, an advert for feline contentment. Gemma reached out to scratch the cat's exposed stomach, and at her movement Kincaid looked up and smiled. "Finished, love?" he asked, and when she nodded he added, "You'd think I'd learn not to nitpick. You always beat me."
She grinned. "It's calculated. Can't let you get the upper hand too often." Yawning again, she glanced at her watch. "Oh, Lord, is that the time? I must go." She swung her feet to the floor and slid them into her shoes.
Kincaid put his papers on the coffee table, gently deposited Sid on the floor, and slid over next to Gemma. "Don't be daft. Hazel's not expecting you, and you'll not get any good mum awards for waking Toby just to carry him home in the middle of the night." With his right hand he began kneading Gemma's back, just below the shoulder blades. "You've got knots again."
"Ouch . . . Mmmm . . . That's not fair." Gemma gave a halfhearted protest as she turned slightly away from him, allowing him better access to the tender spot.
"Of course it is." He scooted a bit closer and moved his hand to the back of her neck. "You can go first thing in the morning, give Toby his breakfast. And in the meantime--" The telephone rang and Kincaid froze, fingers resting lightly on Gemma's shoulder. "Bloody hell."
Gemma groaned. "Oh, no. Not another one, not tonight. Surely someone else can take it." But she reached for her handbag and made sure her beeper was switched on.
"Might as well know the worst, I suppose." With a sigh Kincaid pushed himself up from the sofa and went to the kitchen. Gemma heard him say brusquely, "Kincaid," after he lifted the cordless phone from its cradle, then with puzzled intonation, "Yes? Hullo?"
Wrong number, thought Gemma, sinking back into the cushions. But Kincaid came into the sitting room, phone still held to his ear, his brow creased in a frown.
"Yes," he said, then, "No, that's quite all right. I was just surprised. It has been a long time," he added, a touch of irony in his voice. He walked to the balcony door and pulled aside the curtain, looking into the night as he listened. Gemma could see the tension in the line of his back. "Yes, I'm well, thanks. But I don't see how I can possibly help you. If it's a police matter, you should call your local--" He listened once more, the pause longer this time. Gemma sat forwards, a tingle of apprehension running through her body.
"All right," he said finally, giving in to some entreaty. "Right. Hang on." Coming back to the coffee table, he picked up his notepad and scribbled something Gemma couldn't decipher upside down. "Right. On Sunday, then. Good-bye." He pressed the disconnect button and stood looking at Gemma, phone in hand as if he didn't know what to do with it.
Gemma could contain herself no longer. "Who was it?"
Kincaid raised his eyebrow and gave her a lopsided smile. "My ex-wife."
Meet the Author
Deborah Crombie is a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, two cats, and two German shepherds.
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