A FATAL FACADE is a crime thriller focusing on the lives of four people who become involved with Paolo Cellini, a 30-year-old wealthy art dealer who is killed in his marbled bathroom in Chelsea, London. Each person is linked to Cellini in unusual ways: his lover, Bianca Vella, a Maltese nightclub-singer who worships him; Rico Batas, his Filipino nightclub-manager who hates him; his other lover, Angelica Logan, a woman with too many terrible secrets and Jack Bradley, an ex-DCI, who needs to redeem himself to his family and his colleagues by discovering the truth about the life and death of Cellini. Jack’s obsessive search takes him down dark, disturbing avenues into the secret lives of these people who are almost crushed under the weight of Cellini’s narcissistic personality. Jack knows that one of them killed him but even he is stunned by the secrets he unearths. The novel explores the universal themes of human frailty and our need to find forgiveness. For what man or woman can honestly say ‘I have never done anything wrong.’
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|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Linda M. James is a writer of novels, non-fiction books, screenplays, short stories and poems. Before becoming a writer, she was a model, a singer and an English lecturer. She lives in Kent, UK.
Read an Excerpt
A Fatal Facade
A Crime Thriller
By Linda M. James
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Linda M. James
All rights reserved.
7th December 2012
Paolo Cellini's slim, naked body lay on his marbled-bathroom floor covered only with a small, white towel. All the serenity and beauty of Montgomery's Tancred was revealed in his face, but Jack Bradley knew he wasn't serene. He'd seen too many dead bodies to be deceived by the illusion of serenity. This man was young. He shouldn't have died. Jack moved carefully over to the large free-standing bath in a corner, took off one of his gloves and dipped his fingers into the red-stained bathwater and tasted it. A hint of red wine. Paolo Cellini liked decadence; there were two empty wine bottles and glasses on a marble table near the bath. Obviously he'd been bathing with someone before he died. Jack put his glove back on and opened Paolo's bathroom cabinet and was confronted with a wealth of toiletries: Bvlgari, Ralph Lauren, Nino Cerruti, Contradiction, Pacoxs ... it went on. A bottle of Metoprolol and the usual vitamin supplements that people seemed to be obsessed with these days stood on one side of the cabinet. He'd have to ask Matthew Stanford what the Metoprolol was for; then realized he couldn't. He shouldn't even be in this room.
From outside the bathroom door, Jack heard the grating tones of Alan Saunders, his ex-colleague. Within two strides he reached the door. That's when he spotted the cream silk panties, half hidden behind a radiator. He picked them up and two white tablets rolled over the marbled floor. Jack automatically put them in his pocket, his attention focused on the silk panties – they were exquisitely embroidered; not that he was an expert on embroidery or panties. This was the first time he'd ever fingered ones as expensive as these. The panties disappeared into his pocket as the door opened. Alan Saunders stood there with the usual lopsided smirk on his face; a smirk which had always made Jack want to punch him in the face. So far, he'd resisted the urge.
'Jack – what the hell are you doing in here? You haven't touched anything, have you?'
'Of course not,' Jack answered curtly. He'd been this man's boss for ten years and now he was telling him not to touch anything!
Alan smiled and Jack knew what he was thinking. Jack Bradley isn't my superior any more. He stared at Jack's uniform. 'What force is that, then? Don't recognize it.'
Alan's derisory tone made Jack's stomach contract. If Alan was a plant, he'd be ivy, Jack thought. Strangling everyone with ambitious tenacity.
'I'm working for someone in the apartment block. The dead man's neighbor.' Jack was surprised that he managed to keep his tone so flat.
'Did you find the body?'
'No, the maid did. She's with my employer next door, having the British answer to trauma.'
Alan raised his eyebrows quizzically.
'Tea,' Jack said.
There was a small uneasy silence as the two men stared at each other with years of mutual dislike.
'I see,' Alan said, not seeing anything at all.
'I'll get out of your way.' Jack moved swiftly out of the bathroom as two forensic experts filed into the room; they smiled at him briefly as he passed them; he knew them both.
The unexpectedness of the question hit Jack hard. He turned slowly to face Alan before saying. 'If you ever came to see her, you'd find out.' Jack closed the door and took several deep breaths as he walked into the dead man's lounge. In the winter sunlight it looked like a treasure trove of Medieval and Renaissance Art. A large triptych covered one wall: three panels depicted heaven, hell and purgatory. Jack had a passion for art; he became mesmerized by the consuming flames of hell. Suddenly he was back in that house the night of the siege and the woman's screams were piercing his brain as she burnt in front of him.
A hand on his shoulder made him jump. 'Hallo, sir – where were you?'
Jack turned and saw Jamila Soyinka smiling at him.
'Not a place you want to be and ... it's not "sir" any more ... remember?'
Jamila flushed with embarrassment. She studied the painting. 'Who'd want that in their lounge?' Her nose wrinkled as she saw the devil roasting a foot.
'A Catholic,' Jack answered curtly, turning away from her.
There was a small awkward silence. Jamila glanced around the room in amazement; priceless art works, accumulated over five years, covered every surface.
'This place is more like an art gallery than a home. Wouldn't like to live here myself.'
'You couldn't afford it on your salary.' Jack turned to smile at her. They had always worked well together at the Met. 'The owner was an art dealer. A very successful one, according to my new employer ... she's got the apartment next door. His maid Carla discovered the body.'
'What do you think, Jack?'
'Come on, you've always had a theory.'
Jack was just about to answer when Alan came out of the bathroom talking to Matthew Stanford, the police doctor.
'Time of death?' Alan asked.
'You know I can't be certain,' Matthew answered.
'Well, give me an expert guess,' Alan persisted.
Matthew hesitated before saying, 'Roughly between 2 and 4 am.'
Alan's face tightened as he saw Jack in the corner of the room. 'You still here? Obviously can't keep you away from death.'
The silence in the room was unnerving as everyone stared at Jack.
'I'm just leaving.'
'Jack ... good to see you.' Matthew rushed over to shake Jack's hand warmly. 'I'm almost certain the dead man had a heart attack. He was taking Metoprolol, a beta blocker used to control the rhythm of the heart.' He was speaking to Jack, not Alan.
'If you remember, Matt – Jack's not one of us anymore.' Alan's face flushed with anger.
Another tense silence before Jack started towards the door.
'A heart attack?' Jamila queried. 'But the guy was only 30, wasn't he?'
Jack closed the door on Matthew's answer. He was walking down the corridor to his new employer's apartment when Jamila ran after him.
'What do you think, Jack?'
'I don't any more. You heard Alan.'
Jamila blocked his path. 'Come on – tell me what you think!'
'I think Paolo Cellini was murdered.'
Jamila stared at him in surprise. 'But Matthew found heart tablets in the bathroom cabinet. The guy had a heart condition.'
'You asked what I thought. I've told you.'
He could hear Mrs. Montgomery's voice in the distance talking to Cellini's Italian maid, trying to comfort her; she was crying. Her screams on finding Paolo's body had brought Jack running to his apartment.
'I've got to go.'
Jack started to move away from Jamila when she said, 'Why did you leave the force? Nobody wanted you to.'
'Go back to Alan, Jamila. He needs you.'
'No, he doesn't. You know he likes to take the credit for everything.'
'Not my problem anymore. I've got a new life now.'
'You call being a chauffeur a new life for one of the best DCIs in the Met!' Jamila called after him.
Jack carried on walking towards Mrs. Montgomery's apartment wishing he hadn't heard the anger in her voice.
7th December 2012
Federico Batas pulled his short, thick overcoat closer around him. A fierce December wind scoured his face as he battled towards Cellini's Chelsea art gallery. He'd had appalling dreams last night, reliving the accident over and over, but he still had to work. He was carrying the week's takings from the Blue Notes nightclub in a large black briefcase. Rico had repeatedly told Cellini what he thought about carrying such a large amount of money through the streets of London, but the bastard had simply said, 'No one is going to mug you, Rico, are they? Not with your face.' Rico had always wanted to ask him what he meant, but he never had. He was too afraid of the answer. He turned into Lower Sloane Street and saw a large sign in the gallery window. Gallery Closed Until Further Notice. Rico frowned. The gallery manager had said nothing about any closure last week. Stamping his feet against the cold, he waited for the manager, Edmondo Pourani, to open the door. Edmondo's usual serious expression had been replaced by an even more somber one. It made Rico nervous. He walked past him into the gallery full of expensive and exquisite art acquisitions Cellini had bought, mainly from Italy.
'What's the matter? Why's the gallery closed?' Rico asked him.
Edmondo stared at him in surprise. 'You haven't heard? Mr. Cellini died early this morning. A heart attack at thirty! It's unbelievable.' He patted his forehead with an immaculately laundered handkerchief while Rico stared at him in confusion.
'What do you mean – dead? He can't be dead. He was in the club last night.'
'The police rang me at 6 a.m. He had a heart attack a few hours before. I've only just returned from the mortuary. I had to identify his body. They couldn't find a trace of any family. It was simply ...' His voice trailed off as he patted his forehead with his handkerchief again. 'It's been a terrible shock.'
Rico tried to think quickly, but nothing came.
'You'd better come through, Rico.'
Rico followed Edmondo's immaculate figure into the storeroom at the back of the gallery. 'What shall we do with the takings?'
He frowned at Rico. 'We'll deposit them in the safe as usual ... it's still Mr. Cellini's money whether he's alive or dead.'
'Of course,' Rico added hastily, looking around the storeroom for the crate. It's not here! Rico had to hang onto a nearby table for support. Jesus Christ – they'll crucify me.
Edmondo was depositing the money in the safe, so missed the panic on Rico's face.
'So ... where's the shipment Mr. Cellini was expecting from Italy, Mr. Pourani?'
Edmondo locked the safe and turned in surprise to Rico. 'It's very strange, but he asked for it to be taken straight to his apartment. The police have been there all night, most probably desecrating some of the most priceless works of art in the world. One of them came to the gallery just before you arrived – he must have had all of four brain cells. The dear Lord only knows what the rest are like. If only Mr. Cellini had told me what he was shipping ... I can't understand it.'
Rico could feel the room swaying. He had to sit down.
Even after an hour's walking, he still couldn't think what to do. How could he get access to Cellini's apartment? What if he'd left the crate lying around? Rico was a frozen wreck by the time he walked into the club, but all thought of the crate disappeared from his mind when he saw Bianca sitting at the bar, drinking heavily. It was the middle of the afternoon.
'I was with him last night, Rico. How can he be dead?' She knocked back a glass of whisky without looking at him. Rico corked the bottle and put it under the bar.
'That's not going to help, Bi.'
'It is. Don't want to feel anything ... why'd he rush off like that? We were going to get married next year.' Her convulsive crying had made her mascara black-lead her eyes.
'Married!' Rico couldn't disguise his disbelief.
Bianca glared at him. 'We were! We just didn't want anyone to know – not yet.'
'Oh, come on, Bi – you know what he was like.'
'What's that mean?'
'You know what he was like with women.'
Bianca slid off the bar-stool and shouted into Rico's face. 'What do you mean? Was he seeing someone else?' She shook Rico so hard his head hurt. 'Who was she, Rico? Tell me, you bastard or I'll kick your fucking nuts in! Tell me!' She started to hit him.
'Bi – he wasn't worth this.' He held her arms tight until, at last, she suddenly slumped against him, moaning. 'Shhhhhh,' he said gently, stroking her hair and breathing in the chamomile shampoo she always used. Gradually, she stopped shaking. 'Come on ... I'm taking you home.'
She leaned away from him – her panda eyes trying to focus through the alcoholic haze. 'I'm never going to see him again, Rico ... how am I going to live with that?'
He stopped her collapsing onto the floor. At that moment, Rico wanted Cellini to be alive again; just so he could kill him – very slowly.
7th December 2012
Jack stared at the man in his bathroom mirror, amazed at his reflection. A tired, forty-eight-year-old stranger stared back at him with a face so crumpled it looked as if people had been drying their hands on it. How had it happened? He used to jog every morning before work; he'd start again; he had to keep fit for Lucy. He swallowed some sleeping tablets quickly and had a pee. Worry, that's what's aged me. Why should I care about the death of one more man? What does it matter if Paolo Cellini was murdered or not? So why can't I stop thinking about a naked body lying on the marble floor, covered by a small white towel? He snapped the light off and stumbled out of the room, exhausted. But the question kept circling his mind as he walked up the corridor towards his son's bedroom: who covers himself with a small white towel when he's having a heart attack?
He glanced into Tom's room that was covered with posters from Batman films. His duvet was half off the bed. Jack entered the dimly lit room. Even though Tom was nearly 13 he still wanted a night light on to keep the demons away. If only a light could do that, Jack thought, covering his son's vulnerable body with his Batman duvet. Tom looked much younger than twelve. Not much older than in the photos by his bed. Jack picked up his favourite picture of Lucy and Tom on holiday in Snowdonia three years ago. They were climbing Cader Idris. It was a hard climb, but Lucy was determined to get to the top before either of them. Her face was turned towards the camera, smiling. Jack could see the determination of a fighter in her face. Of course, that was before her illness. His hand trembled as he placed the photo carefully back on Tom's cupboard and smiled at his son. He looked so peaceful sleeping; if only he could look like that when he was awake. Jack closed Tom's door quietly and crept into their bedroom. Lucy was propped up with four pillows, obviously finding it difficult to breathe, but at least she was sleeping. Jack climbed into bed and lay there listening to her heavy breathing. They'd had a night-light in their bedroom too, since Lucy's illness; in case something happened. They often spoke in euphemisms now; it helped them all to cope. The ominous oxygen cylinder waited on Lucy's side of the bed. Would he have the courage not to use it when the time came? Jack thought, before the sleeping tablets took effect.
He woke the next morning to find the bed empty and momentarily panicked. Then he remembered Irina, Lucy's full-time carer. Throwing his woolen dressing gown over his pyjamas, he padded into the kitchen to have breakfast with Lucy and Tom. Irina was feeding Lucy who sat passively in her wheelchair. Jack bent and kissed her before sitting down opposite Tom. He was doing some forgotten homework as usual, but Jack had stopped telling him off. There were more important things to worry about than forgotten homework, he thought. God, it's taken me years to work that out.
Jack smiled at Lucy and had his usual small shock. Each day her face seemed a little more deflated, like a balloon with limited air. Muscular dystrophy had almost paralyzed her completely now, except for her fingers, her eyes and her brain which was still agile. Jack didn't know whether the latter was a blessing or not. Her wheelchair had a voice stimulator attached to it, but she hated the disembodied sound, so she typed messages via a small laptop attached to her wheelchair. She started typing, then looked up at Jack. He glanced at her message tried to stay awake last night
'Sorry, Luc. I didn't get in until late. I had to drive Mrs. Montgomery home from the theater. She's a theater fanatic.'
lucky she can go Lucy typed.
Jack cursed himself for his insensitivity. Lucy used to love going to the theater before she was ill. 'Better get dressed or I'll be late for work.'
Tom made a dismissive sound under his breath as Jack got up and walked out. It had taken him a few weeks to get over the embarrassment of the uniform; each day it got a little easier. He studied himself in the mirror. He actually looked smarter than when he was working at the Met. He steeled himself and went back into the kitchen to kiss Lucy goodbye.
He stopped at the door, trying to make a joke. 'What d'you think of the uniform, then, folks?'
Excerpted from A Fatal Facade by Linda M. James. Copyright © 2013 Linda M. James. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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