A great city is a mirror reflecting everyone's dreams and desperation. From Arthur Ellis Award winner Nora Kelly comes a powerful suspense story set in London. Gillian Adams has moved to London to live with policeman Edward Gisborne, her lover of many years. Feeling displaced, she seeks out her old friend Charlotte, once a brilliant television producer. But Charlotte is sunk in despair, and her daughter Olivia, a young actress, is fleeing from a disturbed fan who may be a dangerous stalker. London, on the brink of the new millennium, boils with traffic, money and a record heat wave. After Charlotte is found dead, events gather towards an explosive climax as Olivia confronts her pursuer and the terrible sequel to a hidden past. Complex characters, diamond-sharp prose and a vivid sense of London old and new draw the reader into a novel of suspense in which love, obsession, tragedy and renewal are inextricably linked.
About the Author
Kelly grew up in New Jersey and spent summers on Cape Cod. She teaches part-time.
Read an Excerpt
By Nora Kelly
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2002 Nora Kelly
All rights reserved.
London was rousing from the brief, unquiet sleep of a summer night. Phones were shrilling, trains were thundering under the streets, delivery vans were hurtling through roundabouts. The earth thrummed, a muted roar and quiver rising through the pavement and vibrating in flesh and bone. As stragglers from after-hours clubs fell from taxis into unmade beds, the mercury climbed, and the soft, dusky faces of terraces and warehouses hardened in the daylight.
Gillian, only half awake, stood in the doorway of the smaller bedroom of the new flat, eyeing the stacks of cardboard boxes. Her cardboard boxes. They leaned crookedly, like doomed highrises financed by the Mafia.
"What was I thinking? That I was moving to Blenheim Palace? That I had to fill two hundred rooms?"
"This flat feels palatial to me," Edward said. He had already showered and dressed and had a coffee cup in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
"That's because your old one was so small we couldn't squeeze past each other without having tantric sex. Where on earth am I going to put all this?"
She'd shipped the boxes at the end of June and had been living with what she'd carried on the plane — summer clothes, her laptop. It felt like camping.
"Sod the boxes. It's too hot today to do anything," Edward said.
Gillian buttoned a sleeveless dress and decided she would have to buy a hat. Something to shade her face. It had never been this hot in London, and she wasn't used to it. Even the nights were heavy with heat. Her hair felt limp and gritty. "I'm supposed to visit Charlotte this morning. I wonder if she'll remember."
"You could ring her up."
"I could if she'd answer. She has the machine on half the time, and it doesn't work. It cuts you off before you can even leave your name."
"How is she, these days?"
"I'll find out when I get there."
"She's still in Fulham?"
"In her same old house. She hasn't moved an inch."
Gillian's boxes had arrived the previous afternoon. The men had carried them up the stairs, sweating. Fifteen hundred books, she'd packed. Half her library. Shoes, winter coats, sheets, wine glasses, china, CDs, pictures, papers, a pair of curtains made up from a fragment of Flemish tapestry, a dozen sweaters, and God knows how many other things that had seemed important at the time. It had been hard to strip down, even to this vast favela of boxes.
Edward had finished his coffee. He'd be off in a minute. She knew his route. He'd walk up through Warwick Square and across the Vauxhall Bridge Road, and wend his way past the playing fields and through the smell of frying chips in Strutton Ground to Scotland Yard. For more years than she'd known him, he'd been walking the same streets in Pimlico. The neighbours didn't set their watches as he passed, since he kept irregular hours, but the shopkeepers knew him, and so did the old ladies and the dogs.
He was wide awake in the mornings, while her mind was still clouded with sleep. In summer he was up before six, unless he'd been working late. Even in the dark of winter, he usually heard the clock's preparatory click and shut it off before the alarm sounded. He liked a smooth glide to the door, nothing in the way. He filled the kettle before he went to bed and set a new paper filter in place over the coffee pot. Over the years, he had honed his routine. Choice had been eliminated where practical, as in the matter of socks. His socks were all the same. As for his other clothes, they weren't literally the same, but they were similar. Well-made, unobtrusive, plain. They lasted. He still had — still wore — the same gray herringbone tweed jacket she'd seen him in when they first met. Never once had she caught him staring blankly into the cupboard wondering what to wear, a posture she herself was all too familiar with. He dressed, he drank his coffee and ate his slice of toast, and he was gone.
This morning, when she'd heard him moving about, she hadn't wanted to open her eyes. People who could rocket out of bed in the morning had an unfair advantage in life, she sometimes thought. What for the rest of humanity was a daily test of character — waking at the necessary hour, being efficient and cheerful — was automatic for Edward and his early-to-rise sort. Not that the difference mattered here and now. She had no need to race to the door, to think of six impossible things before breakfast. She needn't have risen from the bed. But she was used to getting up to go to work, and it was hard to settle back to sleep after twenty minutes of morning noises — water running, drawers shutting, the kettle blasting into outer space. Also, it felt indecently slothful to be still in bed as Edward left the flat. Demoralising. So she was up and dressed, and rewarded by a sense of rectitude and a view of the back of his newspaper.
"Maybe we should buy a cottage," she said.
"What?" Edward lowered the paper, looking startled.
Satisfied with her effect, she said, "I could put the boxes in it. Visit them once in a while. Like a museum."
He laughed, relieved, and went back to scanning the headlines.
The street was quiet, protected by traffic barriers. Edward had found the flat, in one of those buildings that were swathed in cream paint up to the knees and showed bare brown brick above. It had tall windows, two bedrooms, and a balcony off the sitting room just big enough for a dolls' tea party. When Gillian opened the French windows in the evening, she could sometimes smell the river. One of Edward's mother's friends had a son in the property business who'd had a word with someone-or-other, and Edward had been the first to see the flat. It had been a distress sale, the renovations unfinished, otherwise the price would have been beyond their reach. It was still shockingly high, but that was the reality of property in London now. Gillian had listened and simply said yes over the phone.
The move had been hard for Edward. She knew that because he'd complained, and because she knew how hard she found it herself. "What have you got to grouse about?" she'd said one night on the phone. "You're moving from a small flat to a larger one. That's easy. I'm trying to shrink a big house into a couple of dinky rooms."
"I haven't moved since I was divorced."
"I've been in my house almost as long. And I have to cross an ocean. You're just moving around the corner."
"You have a heart of stone."
"Cardboard. As in box."
The new flat was hardly any further from the Yard than the old one. That had been Edward's only condition. Gillian hadn't contested it. The walk had an almost mystical power to put him in a good mood, whereas driving any distance through the congested streets of central London made him short-tempered. She didn't want to discover what he'd be like to live with if he were forced to commute by means other than foot. Besides, she liked Pimlico, its mix of the seedy and the posh, Regency terraces and council flats, flaking paint and lightning-strike reno jobs, its unassuming eclecticism.
She liked the Italian she heard in the streets, the old ladies emerging from their roosts, the cool young mothers reading on benches in the gardens while their children squabbled, the rows of quiet flats interspersed with Buddhist temples and language schools and little hotels. She'd stayed in one of the hotels once, in a room on the top floor. Her head had bumped the ceiling at the turn in the staircase. Pimlico felt a bit out of the way, tucked into a bend of the Thames. Nothing quite stood still, but the tidal race of London swept past, while Pimlico drifted a little.
"I'm off now," Edward said. "I'll be in court all day."
"Who's the judge?"
"Rankin. Just our luck. Will you see Olivia this morning?"
"Another time. She's away filming, Charlotte said."
He kissed her. "Don't fret about your boxes."
"I wish the ship had sunk."
She'd liked the flat, too. It was empty and light, Edward's spare living habits having made only a slight imprint on its neutrality. In the mornings, the kitchen smelled of peeled oranges and coffee. The paint wasn't even scratched yet. A few pieces of furniture stood where he'd put them but didn't look settled; they had a temporary air, as if they had unexpectedly found a pleasant little hotel. It was how she felt herself. All she'd had to do was move in.
He closed the door, quietly. If she were to list the things she liked about him, one of the items would be 'does not slam doors'. The list of deficiencies would include 'does not cook'. But she hadn't added up the pros and cons before moving. The conclusion hadn't been reached through a process of rational analysis. The analysis, such as it was, had come afterwards, as it tends to when we want something. She had wanted to be here, suddenly wanted it badly.
And now that she'd arrived? Today she could be in her own large, cool house, looking at reading lists for the fall semester. All her books would be on the shelves; her papers would be spread out across the desk. Her garden would be blooming outside the windows. Not that she'd ever been a real gardener, but right now the honeysuckle would be perfuming the back yard and the daisies and hollyhocks would be opening. She shouldn't think about them. The house had been bought by a Chinese doctor, daisies and all.
The long day loomed before her. Why had she shipped all these boxes? They would just remind her of everything she'd left behind. She was supposed to be starting a new life in London. Freedom. Janis Joplin's sorrowing, scraped-bare voice came to mind, though Gillian had plenty left to lose and thumbing rides in the rain was hardly congruent with her shipping bill and the pink-faced, sweating movers. The boxes looked stupid, comic in their inadequacy and excess, as if she'd thought she could drag her other life along and tack it on to her new life in London. But the boxes couldn't hold the spaces of the house she had loved, the blue-green Pacific-drenched light, evenings in the kitchen at Laura's house. The boxes were merely emblematic of the wrench of departure. They were funereal. They made her think of Egyptian tombs where the mummified dead lay surrounded by objects they were supposed to require in the next life. Well, at least she hadn't killed her slaves, too. Maybe the Egyptians were right: the contents of the boxes would come in handy in a few thousand years.
She washed her cup and dried it and read the headlines in the paper. The stories couldn't hold her attention; they were abstract tales, like gossip about people you hadn't met. Since the boxes had arrived, her move, her displacement, had become tangible. Why had she thought she could reinvent her life? Love. But now that she was here, she felt the immensity of London. It did not know her, and a new life seemed like a foolish enterprise. Perhaps it was the heat. Anyhow, this morning she was going out. She would shut the door on the idiocy of her boxes; she would visit Charlotte and look for a hat.
A few miles away, in Bayswater, a man leaned against the wall just inside the entrance to a dilapidated arcade of shops. Shoe repairs, key cutting, small print jobs and photocopying — businesses that couldn't afford to pay for higher visibility — clung to a few square feet of musty space in the dim passageway. The shops were empty, the windows still dark. On the corner, the Queen's Head pub was locked and silent. Only the Chagga, a coffee bar a few doors down, was open and busy. A stream of people flowed in and then briskly out, fortified with caffeine.
The man made no move towards the coffee bar, remaining in the shadowed entryway. He was big, with broad shoulders and a large round head, the scalp showing white through a brown stubble of crew-cut hair. His clothes hung loose, shirttail flopping, cuffs dragging over his boots. He slouched, his chin thrust forward, a fixed frown making him seem unaware of his surroundings until a sudden darting upward glance focused on a window across the road.
Not many people were about. Solitary men and women hurried along the pavement, intent on the day, their minds jumping ahead, already at work or skittering past it to the promise of the evening. They chatted into phones; they ruminated on shopping lists; they fretted about computer viruses or whether the escalators at their underground stops were still out of service. They knew their way and hardly saw the street's details; they responded to motion in the field of vision and then forgot.
For long minutes the man was still, framed in the recess like a statue in a niche. Only his eyes flickered over the block of flats across the street. Then he twitched, and his fingers stabbed into the pocket of his shirt. He lit a cigarette. A woman passing the arcade glanced sideways, startled to see him so close to her. She scuttled away, angling across to the outer edge of the pavement. Ignoring her, he resumed his surveillance of the flats, the cigarette pinched between his thumb and forefinger, his curled palm hiding the glowing tip.
Moments later, a figure appeared in the doorway of the building he was watching. A blonde in sunglasses. He started, straining forward. His pale eyes focused sharply as she stepped out into the light, but almost immediately he frowned and slumped back against the wall. The young woman, oblivious, slipped across the street to the coffee bar; his gaze tracked her briefly, then drifted away. He muttered and fidgeted, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
He studied the building again. The window he was watching was on the fourth floor. It was open and the curtains were drawn; the folds of thin, cream-colored fabric hung limp in the humid air. The nearby windows, presumably belonging to the same flat, were also open, but the listless curtains revealed nothing of the interior. At night, he might have seen something, for there was a gap where the curtains didn't quite meet, but in the daytime it was only a triangular strip of darkness between opaque swathes of cloth.
Well down the street, a pair of constables moved steadily along, scanning the shop entrances and the weave of traffic, sorting the sample of humanity that showed itself at this early hour. They were relaxed, but seeing them, the crew-cut man withdrew deeper into the arcade.
An empty plastic flask of gin lay on the tiled floor beside a flattened nest of cardboard and newspaper. A dosser had been sleeping in the arcade, but he'd smelled foul, and the man had kicked him until he woke up, grunting, and staggered off. The sour reek of urine hung in the air. The man wiped his sleeve across his nose. A wad of gum was stuck to the edge of his bootsole. Irritably, he scraped his foot against the brick wall, missing the constables as they crossed the street. He was taken by surprise when they suddenly stood at the mouth of the passage, blocking out the light.
"Looking for something, mate?"
"Waiting for a friend." He turned away, staring sullenly at the cards in the window of the print shop.
Their eyes flicked over the arcade, registered the tattered cardboard.
The same one spoke again. "Been having a kip?"
"Do I look like it, for Chrissake?"
The other officer was studying the man. "I've seen you here before, hanging about."
"No you haven't."
"I know your face."
The man shrugged. "So? I've got a mate lives near here.
We have a few pints at the pub."
"Pub's not open, son. What's his name, this mate of yours?"
"Piss off." Coppers.
"How long you been waiting?" the first constable asked, intervening.
"On yer bike, then." The constable jerked his thumb, dismissive. "Go and wait where your friend can see you."
Stepping aside, the two officers waited while the man left the arcade and clumped along the pavement. Near the coffee bar, the people clutching their lattes in paper cups saw him coming, saw the wide-legged walk and the glare, and detoured out of his way.
"Right. Piss off," he repeated half aloud, halting outside the window of the Chagga. The blood was drumming in his ears. He peered in. She wasn't there, Olivia. Only a scrum of idiots dressed up for work, pouring coffee down their throats before they went to their robot jobs. Poncy blokes, girls with expensive shoes and wee tattoos on their shoulders. He balled his hands into fists. Sweat beaded under his arms and trickled down his sides.
Excerpted from Hot Pursuit by Nora Kelly. Copyright © 2002 Nora Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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