Even over the telephone, Scott Mitchell can tell the caller is more beautiful than any woman he’s ever met. Her name is Stephanie Miller, and from the tremor in her voice, it sounds like a matter of life and death. Miss Miller works for Crosby Blake, one of the most powerful, and dangerous, men in London. Blake’s niece, Cathy, is missing, and it will take a ruthless private detective to find her—and Mitchell is as ruthless as they come.
On the night she disappeared, Cathy came home at 10:30 and went straight to bed. The next morning, her room was empty, as if she’d simply disappeared. Soon, the phone rang, and a muffled voice demanded £20,000 in small bills and utter discretion. If anyone muttered one word to the police, Cathy would be dead. That’s when it becomes Mitchell’s problem. To bring her back safely, he’ll have to untangle a web of deadly lies that threaten to bind him tighter with every question he asks.
Written in the tradition of classic private-eye novels like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Ross Macdonald’s The Way Some People Die, The Geranium Kiss is as hardboiled as they come.
The Geranium Kiss is the 2nd book in the Scott Mitchell Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
A police inspector noted for his love of both sandwiches and jazz, Resnick has starred in eleven novels and one volume of short stories. The BBC has adapted two of the Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment (1990), for television movies. Both starred Academy Award–nominated actor Tom Wilkinson and had screenplays written by Harvey. Besides writing fiction, Harvey spent over twenty years as the head of Slow Dancer Press. He continues to live and write in London.
John Harvey (b. 1938) is an incredibly prolific British mystery writer. The author of more than one hundred books, as well as poetry and scripts for television and radio, Harvey did not begin writing professionally until 1975. Until then he was a teacher, educated at Goldsmiths College, London, who taught literature, drama, and film at colleges across England. After cutting his teeth on paperback fiction, Harvey debuted his most famous character, Charlie Resnick, in 1989’s Lonely Hearts, which the English Times called one of the finest crime novels of the century. A police inspector noted for his love of both sandwiches and jazz, Resnick has starred in eleven novels and one volume of short stories. The BBC has adapted two of the Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment (1990), for television movies. Both starred Academy Award–nominated actor Tom Wilkinson and had screenplays written by Harvey. Besides writing fiction, Harvey spent over twenty years as the head of Slow Dancer Press. He continues to live and write in London.
Read an Excerpt
The Geranium Kiss
A Scott Mitchell Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1976 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
It was nine minutes after eleven and I was lying in a bath tub of water, that was gradually becoming the same depressing shade of grey as the sky outside. Or my last memory of it. But then, most of my memories were that colour.
It was early December and after pretending for a long time that it wasn't going to happen, it was winter. Summer had been hot and long; Autumn had produced reds and golds the brightness of kids' picture books. Just when everything had conspired to lull folk into a false sense of security — wham!
The thing that annoyed me most was that I had been surprised. I shouldn't have been. I'd been around long enough to know that life worked like that. Maybe I'd been around too long. Thirty-six years too long.
No. It hadn't all been like that. There was a time back there, somewhere. Four years less than four days. ...
Something cut in on my self-pity. Downstairs the phone was ringing. Another thing I should have known. No-one would call for days. Then when I took a bath there would be enough bells ringing to make me think I was the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not that I'd ever worked out whether the best thing to do was to jump out of the bath, grab a towel and run down the stairs or wait until they phoned again later.
If it was important they'd call again.
Maybe they'd just move on through yellow pages to the next private investigator in the book.
I stayed where I was. There's something about your own warm dirt which is eternally consoling. I guess in the end it has to be.
The phone stopped ringing. I began to apply my mind to the great human problem of how the hell I was going to pass the time until there was a reasonable chance of getting to sleep for the night.
I could walk down to the coffee shop and indulge myself in blueberry shortcake; stay home with my stereo and a book of bridge problems; wait in the bath until my skin began to flake off into the water ...
The phone cut across my thoughts again.
Okay, I said to myself, let's go.
I splashed a good quantity of murky water on to the floor; pulled at a towel and secured it around myself at the third attempt; collided with the edge of the bath; half-ran, half-hopped down the stairs, almost slipping three steps from the bottom; grabbed at the receiver; in time to hear the phone cut off at the other end of the line.
I told the telephone exactly what it could do with itself and sat down on the stairs, drawing breath. Then I padded through into the kitchen and put water in the kettle, switched it on. Took down the glass jar of Columbian coffee beans and shook some into the electric grinder. Ground the beans, warmed the enamel pot. I measured the amount of coffee that went into the pot and the amount of water that followed it. Stirred everything up and set the pot on the cooker.
Now I could go upstairs and get dressed. It was five minutes off twelve o'clock.
At three minutes past midday the phone went again. Don't ask me why I noticed the time. Occasionally I get obsessive about little things like that. Once I swore to myself that I wouldn't be able to live unless I had scrambled eggs for breakfast every day. I had sworn I wouldn't be able to live without a whole lot of things.
But here I still was and it was a hell of a long time since I'd had scrambled eggs.
I took the phone off the hook.
'Hello,' I said, 'this is Scott Mitchell.'
'Well, hello,' said someone somewhere, 'I'm glad you're finally up.'
The speaker was female with the kind of voice that goes with all those ads for Martini and Bacardi and the other drinks I'd never really got around to. I wondered what she wanted from me.
'What do you mean?' I asked.
'Well, Mr Mitchell, you have been proving rather difficult to get hold of.'
'I've been taking a bath,' I explained.
'Oh,' she said with a slight smirk in her voice, 'then that would make you even more difficult to get hold of.'
'That depends where you had in mind getting a grip,' I said.
'That depends what you've got that's worth the effort.'
She was rising in my estimation with every minute and that wasn't the only thing that was rising. It wasn't every woman who could make me feel randy over the telephone in the middle of the day. But perhaps I'd been taking calls from all the wrong people.
'Are you still there, Mr Mitchell,' the voice said, 'or have you slipped away for a quick rub down?'
'A quick what?'
'A quick ... oh, forget it!'
'I'm trying to,' I said, 'but it's hard. There's this image in my mind that's most disturbing.'
'The only thing I can suggest, Mr Mitchell, is that you take yourself in hand. There's nothing else I can do in the circumstances.'
There was a pause during which I was conscious of the sound of her breathing, then she added, 'Unfortunately.'
'There is one thing you could do,' I told her.
'You could tell me why you phoned. I'm sure it wasn't only to brush up on your telephone technique.'
'Are you telling me that my technique needs improving?' She managed to sound almost hurt.
'Not at all,' I replied, 'but I'll withhold my written reference until I've experienced it in person.'
'Now, Mr Mitchell, you're bragging! Don't tell me that you can write. I thought you were a big dumb private detective.'
'I am. But I'm one of the newer kind. Got smart and went to evening classes: reading, writing and elocution.'
'What happened to the elocution?' she asked.
'I dropped out of that one. The teacher would keep coming up behind me with a long, pointed stick. Something to do with my diphthongs.'
'Forget it,' I said, 'I haven't used them in a long time. And you still didn't tell me why you called.'
'You know a policeman called Gilmour,' she said.
I didn't know if it was a statement or a question, so I didn't reply. Just waited.
Finally, she carried on. 'He suggested that you might be the man to get in touch with. There's a little difficulty and we need some help.'
'Meaning you and your husband?'
'Meaning my employer and myself, Mr Mitchell. I no longer have a husband.'
'You make it sound as though you lost him in a waiting room at Victoria Station.'
'Actually, it was room 101 of the Royal Hotel. Now can we get on with business?'
'By all means. What kind of difficulty do you happen to be in?'
She hesitated, then said, 'I don't think I can discuss it on the phone, Mr Mitchell. Couldn't we meet?'
'I'm sure we could. But if you didn't want to talk about it on the phone, why didn't you go straight into my office?'
'I don't believe in trusting other people's recommendations too fully. I wanted to make my own assessment before arranging any kind of meeting. This is a very delicate affair, Mr Mitchell.'
'In that case,' I said, 'maybe you'd better try someone else. I'm about as delicate as King Kong.'
'But look how gentle he was with Fay Wray,' she replied.
I liked that. I liked a woman who'd seen a movie or two.
'So what's your assessment?' I asked.
'Where's your office?'
I gave her the address in Covent Garden and told her I'd meet her there in an hour and a half. She said it sounded a long time, but I figured that didn't matter.
Hard-to-get Mitchell, that's me.
'One last thing,' I said.
'It's Stephanie,' she said, 'Stephanie Miller.'
'How did you know that was what I wanted?' I asked.
'It wasn't,' she replied and hung up.
I poured myself some coffee and sat in the armchair. Yes, that's right, the armchair. I had visitors like starving people had food.
The coffee was a little strong by now, but that didn't matter. I sat there trying to picture what she might be like. Finally figured that she'd be above medium height, longish dark hair, strong face; good clothes over a better shape.
I considered calling Tom Gilmour at West End Central and asking him what it was all about. For no good reason, I decided against it. I could wait. I was the kind of guy who just thrived on surprises.
Why, I was already getting worked up about Christmas.
This year I might even get a present from someone other than myself.
After another cup of coffee, I got the car out of the garage and drove into town.
Since the vegetable traders had moved away from Covent Garden and the developers had threatened to move in, it was like walking around in some kind of ghost town. The painted iron work of the original market still survived and where properties had been demolished, kids had used the walls that surrounded the empty sites for a series of highly-coloured murals. Yet, despite all this, there was a deadness, a lack of reality about the place.
Maybe that was why I stayed there; why I still liked it. Or maybe that was because I couldn't afford an office anywhere else.
I pushed open the side door next to what had been a jewelry showroom and was now an empty space and another plate glass window waiting to be broken.
The stairs that led up to the first floor were dirty and looked as if they'd hadn't been swept in a long time. It was dark on the landing and I felt for the light switch. Nothing happened. I should have known.
The sign that had been painted on the frosted glass of the outer office door read, 'Scott Mitchell — Private Investigator'. The capital letters had all begun to flake away slightly, as though they thought they were giving the place too good a name.
I pushed the key into the lock and let myself in. Three paces took me over to the inner door and I unlocked this as well. Both locks.
Nobody could say that I wasn't a careful man. Sometimes. Usually when it didn't matter.
I pulled up the shade at the window and looked down into the street below. No-one walked the pavements. No-one drove along the street. I turned away and sat down behind my desk, wondered if I could take yet another cup of coffee. Decided that I could. After all, I hadn't had lunch.
The water boiled just as I heard a car draw up outside. When I looked out of the window, I was staring down on to the top of a neat little sports job in two-tone blue. After a few moments, I got a second mug from the cupboard and set it alongside the first.
Then I sat back behind the desk and tried to look the way I guessed she'd want me to look.
She didn't look too surprised when she came round the door and saw me sitting there. But then, maybe her expectations hadn't been too high.
My own had and she came up to them in every way. Not only that, but I'd managed to get the description right in most details — only the hair was fair rather than dark. She wore a mid-length dark purple skirt under a dark fur coat that certainly hadn't come from any jumble sale. She smiled and came towards me holding out her hand.
I stood up and accepted it, being a gentleman underneath all the tough, wise-cracking exterior. Her fingers were cool, her grip firm and confident. Her eyes were a kind of greeny-blue and they never left mine until we had both sat down.
'Coffee?' I asked, nodding my head in the direction of the percolator in the corner.
She made a face, as though anticipating some kind of gritty brown mixture, but said yes anyway.
Then she said, 'You live a long way from your office, Mr Mitchell.'
'I like to leave work far behind me,' I said, 'the only thing is that it has ways of chasing after me.' I tried my second-best smile. 'Oh, and won't you make that Scott. Mr Mitchell sounds too formal.'
'If you don't want your work to follow you home,' she said, 'why have your home number in the book as well as this one?'
'I guess, Stephanie, that I can't afford to turn down the possibility of being hired. If you see what I mean.'
'I see what you mean,' she replied. 'Oh, and won't you call me Miss Miller?'
I blinked and got up to pour out the coffee. By the time I had brought it back to the desk, she had lit up a cigarette. I hesitated a moment, waiting for her to offer me one so that I could refuse, but she didn't give me the opportunity.
I looked down at the way she had hitched the hem of her skirt above her knees and wondered what kind of opportunities she might give me. If any.
'That's not bad,' she said after sipping from the edge of the cup as though it might turn the tables and bite her. 'Not bad at all. Maybe you ought to be in the restaurant business?'
'Sorry,' I said, 'I already have a good business.'
She looked around the office. 'Where do you keep it?' she asked. 'This really is a good front.'
I laughed a little and drank some of the coffee. She was right. It was good and business wasn't. I tried to picture myself in a white apron pouring morning coffee and calling out for some more slices of home-made apple pie at the same time. I didn't like what I saw.
I said, 'Maybe what you've brought will help things along a little. Do you think we can talk about it now ... or are you frightened that the place is bugged?'
Ostentatiously, I looked under the desk for a hidden recording device. As I did so, she crossed her legs easily and pleasantly.
'Are you really feeling for something under there?' she asked. 'Or is that just an excuse to look up my skirt?'
I grinned. 'It could be both.'
She said, 'Look, do you want me to tell you why I'm here or not?'
I shrugged my shoulders. 'It'll do. For now.'
She picked up her coffee cup and held it in both hands in front of her, not drinking from it, simply holding it. I wondered what it was about the things she had to say that made her need that kind of support, that kind of comfort.
'For the last three years I've worked for a man called Crosby Blake. Have you heard of him?'
I shook my head from side to side. I was still watching the way in which her fingers curled around the cup, holding it tight.
'Well, he's a rich man, Mr Mitchell. He made a lot of money from chartered aircraft and invested that in a great many things. He also owns a large taxi fleet and several firms which hire out vans and lorries.'
I interrupted. 'You mean he's nationalised the transport industry all by himself.'
'In a way. Except that he runs his business efficiently.'
'And takes all the profit.'
She leaned forward in her chair and stubbed out her cigarette in the ash tray.
'All that is merely background and largely beside the point.'
'Which is what?' I asked.
She looked up at him sharply and her voice was as cold as iced water. 'For a man who obviously isn't overburdened with work, you are very impatient. I can always take this somewhere else.'
I stood up and began to move around the desk.
'I hope you're going to get me some more coffee,' she said quickly, 'and not do anything petty and dramatic like opening the door and showing me the way out.'
I turned right and went for the percolator. As if I had been going to do any such thing as offer her the door. As if!
After I had sat down again, she continued.
'Mr Blake has no immediate family of his own. He has never married. He lives with his sister and her daughter — her husband was killed in a road accident sixteen years ago. A year after the daughter was born.'
'Which makes her seventeen,' I offered. I'd forgotten to tell her that I did arithmetic at night school as well.
She looked directly at me again. 'Which makes her seventeen and missing.'
I drank a little of the coffee. It had a sharp tang to it that tried to take my palate by surprise.
'Lots of girls go missing at seventeen. Including some from the finest homes.'
'I know that, Mr Mitchell,' she said, 'but Cathy isn't simply missing. She's been kidnapped.'
That took me by surprise as well. I looked at her and tried to see something in those green-blue eyes. But I didn't know what I was looking for. So I asked a question instead.
'When did this happen?'
'Two days ago.'
I whistled softly. 'You've told the police, of course.'
'Then why ...?'
'Why come to you?'
'There's been a ransom demand. Crosby wants to pay it.'
I noted the switch from Mr Blake to Crosby and nodded for her to carry on. Maybe it would be three years before she got to call me Scott.
'The police are keeping well out of things. Maintaining a low profile, I think they called it. After one or two other cases recently, they've decided to handle things rather differently.'
'Which is why there's been nothing about this in the press,' I suggested.
She had finally felt able to put down the cup. But only to reach for the security of another cigarette. There was something strangely interesting about a confident woman coping with a situation that she found in some way upsetting.
Yet she did it well. I wondered if she even knew what she found disturbing and why. Wondered whether she realised the way she had been making use of her cup and now her cigarette.
'The police had some difficulty achieving it, apparently, but all of the media have agreed to give no coverage to the kidnapping whatsoever. For the time being. I don't know how long they will wait.'
She blew a gentle wreath of smoke in my direction.
'I hope it's long enough,' she said.
I asked, 'Where exactly do I come in?'
'Crosby was terribly uncertain about how to deal with the paying of the ransom, the whole business of making the arrangements. This thing has affected him really badly. I've never known him like it.'
Excerpted from The Geranium Kiss by John Harvey. Copyright © 1976 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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