Surveyor Douglas Young stumbles across rambling Underwood House, near Edinburgh, one day whilst walking his dog. He realizes its potential immediately, and after it is developed into flats he becomes the anointed leader of the residents. So when one of his neighbors is found dead, Douglas and his young assistant Tash become irrevocably involved in the police investigation. But the plot thickens when a shocking discovery is made in the deceased’s flat . . .
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||752 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
With My Little Eye
By Gerald Hammond
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2011 Gerald Hammond
All rights reserved.
'Buggah!' said Douglas Young aloud. He then chided himself silently, not for the use of bad language but because a six-year sojourn in an English public school had imposed over his mild, native, southern Scots voice the sort of accent that he was trying to shake off. It raises the hackles and the blood pressure of the diehard Scot whose ancestors have too often been imposed on by men with such accents. The original oath, however, had been provoked only because his feet had led him into an opening that turned out to be neither a neglected B-road nor a well maintained farm road, but the driveway to a substantial house that he had never known existed.
Underwood House stands in the busy, flat and fertile stretch of land lying between the Firth of Forth and the Pentland Hills. It is not far from Edinburgh and only a mile or two from the nearest small town.
Douglas read the name carved into one of the stone gate pillars and sensed puzzlement. Wood, yes. But 'under'? The house lies in woodland which in turn is surrounded by undulating farmland.
The house was built for a minor industrialist during the Scottish shale-oil boom, but when Douglas Young (no relation to the James 'Paraffin' Young who had triggered that boom in the first place) came across the house its state was rather neglected. Douglas was not looking for a house at the time; he was accompanied by Rowan and carrying a shotgun. Nor was he looking for the betrayer of his daughter. Rowan was a black Labrador retriever and, with the permission of the farmer and landowner, they were looking for any unwary rabbit or wood pigeon or, perhaps with luck, a pheasant wandered from a nearby estate and just come into season by a day or two. It would probably be one of last year's birds and tough as an old boot, but with even more luck it might be a hen pheasant released from the laying pens once the duty of laying eggs was done, in which case it might be both large and tender. His involuntary oath had escaped because he had missed a comparatively easy wood pigeon clattering out of the treetops. No wood pigeon is very easy but that one should have been less difficult than the average.
Curiosity led his feet to the pillared front doorway.
The front door of the house stood open. A visitor, a general practice surveyor, was inspecting the house on behalf of the owner. He was known to Douglas who, although he was a member of the same profession, worked for a different firm. The two had dined together on professional occasions or exchanged drinks rather more often when winding down after difficult meetings. They examined the property together.
The interior of the house was well laid out with some very handsome rooms. It happened that Douglas had arrived by way of the main drive from which there was no view of the frontage, the leaves still being on the trees. The simple, Georgian-style elevation should have been impossible to spoil but the original designer had managed that feat by means of some regrettable changes to the proportions that had become established for such houses over many years. If Douglas had studied the exterior at this early stage he might have lost interest — which would have been a pity. The house was surrounded by a strip of garden, now running to seed, but at no point could the viewer retreat to view it from further than he could have kicked a football; and the extra material that had spoiled the proportions had been used to add strength and durability to the components. It was robust rather than elegant. Built of weathered stone and roofed with blue-black slates, several Virginia creepers were still glowing vividly against the walls. Douglas could only admire.
As they walked round, it became ever clearer to Douglas that the house would lend itself to division into at least four really excellent apartments with perhaps a fifth, a granny-flat, in the semi-basement.
His companion let slip that the present owner was anxious to sell, and to sell quickly in order to finance an investment abroad. The house was not suitable for a small hotel or large enough for a hostel or a hospice. There was, as usual, an economic depression in Scotland and the larger private house without a sporting estate attached was not selling well. A bed-and-breakfast does not command a high price. An offer of or close to the asking price might well be accepted by return of post.
Douglas was tired of being a wage slave. He was adequately paid but he had an eye for the defects in a property, an instinct for property values and the patience to prepare a thorough report. Clients, he knew, came to his employers' firm because of his work. He also knew that this work was charged out with an oncost that made him feel like weeping. A move into becoming a property developer suddenly seemed very attractive.
The first and most obvious snag was that a property developer needs capital. Considering his assets, Douglas was forced to the conclusion that he had few if any. His car had been more expensive than he could justify even to himself, but it had been in an accident which would make it difficult to sell. He owned most of his flat in Morningside but it was small and dark and without parking space. The rest of his worldly goods might add up to a thousand on a good day, or perhaps double that figure if he threw in his two shotguns, which he had no intention of doing. His bank account would barely sustain him until his next salary cheque.
The next step was to visit his bank manager. After some rather unsatisfactory interviews had taken place at both his bank and at several building societies, it was confirmed that, in a time of recession, a customer without either funds or a long history of borrowing and repayment would have more chance of winning the lottery than of borrowing more than a fraction of the sum required. The lottery proving unforthcoming, he was left with the possibility of a private loan. His mind turned towards Seymour McLeish.CHAPTER 2
Attitudes vary remarkably according to how much money the other person has or is believed to have. The pauper sees every well-heeled passer-by as arrogant, condescending and probably a crook, while the rich man sees the pauper as jealous, idle and lacking any ounce of get-up-and-go.
Seymour McLeish had suddenly acquired wealth in mid-life when a novel that he had written during a holiday in Benidorm had hit the best-seller lists, been serialized on television and then made into a prodigiously successful film. Nobody had anticipated such success so an agent on his behalf had negotiated a very favourable contract. He never wrote another word but, as he said, why should he? Douglas had known him at the time of his success but had been unable to detect any change in attitude. Seymour remained just the same vague, untidy, likeable man. He continued to run and even to expand his garage-cum-filling-station and its agency for new and used cars with modest efficiency although, with his film being dubbed into language after language and being repeated regularly on television, he could well have afforded to retire in some comfort.
It was several years since he and Douglas had belonged to the same clay pigeon shooting club. At that time he must have been nearly fifty while Douglas was still in his late twenties. Despite the difference in their ages they had got on well enough that they would still meet occasionally for a pint in their local pub on occasional weekend evenings, but Douglas, on obtaining his qualification and a job, had changed his digs to be nearer his work and each had rather lost interest in breaking inanimate targets.
Douglas diverged from his shortest way home after work the next day and took to well-remembered streets that brought him to a brightly lit forecourt on a main artery where traffic was filtering westward out of Edinburgh. The autumn day had turned foul and a mist thrown up by wet tyres hung over the road. The workshop was closed but the part-time staff, wives of Seymour's mechanics, were busily accepting payment for petrol and diesel. The showroom and offices were still busy. Seymour was in his office, supposedly signing the day's mail, but it was a measure of his alertness that he recognized Douglas's BMW and came out to meet him before he'd finished topping up.
'Well, here's a face I haven't seen for a long while,' Seymour said in his typically cheery manner.
They shook hands. 'Would you have time for a visit to the pub?' Douglas asked. He knew this man would appreciate him cutting to the chase immediately.
Seymour glanced at his watch, reflected for a moment and then shook his head. 'Sorry,' he said. 'Can't. Betty fixed something up and she wants me home by eight without fail.'
'There's something I want to show you,' Douglas explained and hoped he implied a certain amount of enticement into his tone to pique Seymour's interest. 'An hour or two on Sunday afternoon might be better.'
Seymour looked at him speculatively, but Douglas had never been one to waste anybody's time. He nodded and smiled. 'I could manage that.'
'I'll pick you up around two thirty. You're still at the same place?'
Seymour's smile flickered for a fraction of an instant. Douglas was satisfied. Seymour was still in the flat in which his family had been raised. It was convenient to his business, but, that said, he would have run out of favourable comments.
By the Sunday afternoon the sunshine had made a return. Douglas drew the little sports BMW to a halt on the dot of two thirty. On a fine, autumn day he would usually have been running with the top down but he wanted to take some soundings while they travelled.
Seymour's flat was only two storeys up but they were two very high storeys. Douglas was bracing himself for the formidable climb when Seymour emerged from the building, rotund, cheerful and balding, and settled into the passenger seat. 'We rebuilt this for you, didn't we?'
'And very soundly too.'
'I was waiting for an enquiry from your insurers but it never came.'
'I wasn't covered. The damage happened while I was competing in a piddling little rally,' Douglas said bitterly, 'so they turned me down. My policy excluded any sort of competition.'
'Very.' As though the subject was still too painful to pursue, Douglas changed it; but he had already made his point. And they were already out of Edinburgh. 'How are Betty and the children?'
'Betty's fine,' Seymour said. 'But lay off the talk of children. Geraldine's nineteen now and Harry isn't far behind. Either of them would eviscerate you if they heard themselves referred to as a child. It must be three or four years since you've seen them.'
'I suppose it must. Are they still at home?'
'Geraldine is. Harry goes to boarding school but he's with us for every holiday. Gerry's still looking for a mission in life.'
Douglas remained hopeful. The flat had always seemed too small for the couple plus two children plus their own friends and the children's friends. Betty had always complained about the lack of storage.
'Did you never find anything more suitable?' Douglas queried.
'Every so often.' Seymour answered and sighed heavily, misting his half of the windscreen. 'But if I didn't hate it, Betty did. One was almost perfect and in just the right place but it didn't have any garden at all. I can't live,' Seymour said plaintively, 'if I don't have some private outdoor space to be eccentric in.'
Douglas hid his amusement. Seymour was the least eccentric person that he knew.
Seymour seemed to sense it. 'It's not that I want to be eccentric,' he said. 'It's just that it would be nice to know that I could be if I wanted to.'
Douglas turned in at the gates. 'That seems reasonable,' he said. 'And I think that this might be the very place.'CHAPTER 3
Douglas's guess that Seymour McLeish would be keen turned out to be an underestimate. Spring is usually the optimal time for showing off a property but if the weather is kind a colourful autumn day is as good. Confronted for the first time by the prospect of generous accommodation in rural surroundings, within easy reach of his business, he was enthralled. His wife, fetched in haste that same afternoon to view the potential, had less eyes for old stonework, gracious rooms and lush countryside and was more taken with the possibilities for cupboards galore, some of them heated, and for space not overlooked by many critical or envious neighbours. Seymour would have written a cheque on the spot.
Douglas was only too well aware that building projects not large enough to attract and hold the interest of major contractors may safely be expected to take longer than for ever. It was a shock to his system when he found that the project was rushing ahead, apparently under its own momentum.
Seymour was able to offer inducements, such as immediate attention to a mechanical problem, a jump up the queue for the newest model or a very fair trade-in value. In this manner he found Harris Benton, a young architect in the employ of the Regional Council, who was persuaded to transfer Douglas's sketches into working drawings and to blast them through the processes for official approval. In similar manner, small contractors were persuaded to prepare keen tenders in a very short time and then to live up to the rash promises that had been extracted.
Seymour also found a Mrs Jamieson, a grass widow whose husband was on contract in the Middle East. The Jamiesons' house had become subject to a not ungenerous Compulsory Purchase Order so that the disproportionately large garden could be added to several others for the benefit of one of the local universities, to form a site for a much needed hall of residence. She visited Seymour's garage in search of a car spacious enough to carry her growing family around and left in a two-year-old hybrid people carrier that the previous owner, a mechanical engineer blessed with considerable ingenuity, before he succumbed to a fatal heart attack, had converted to run on natural gas between its bouts of running on electricity. She also found that she had promised to come and look at Underwood House.
Mrs Jamieson was a down-to-earth woman, handsome rather than beautiful, with a rich head of auburn hair and a conspicuous beauty spot beside her mouth. Her figure was definitely de luxe. She dressed to be comfortable, regardless of style or fashion, and yet never looked dowdy. She claimed that she could still get into her wedding dress though nobody had dared to challenge her on the point. She was brisk in manner and well able to take a decision which she was absolutely certain her husband would endorse.
When she made the promised visit to meet Seymour at the house a few days later, he was surprised to note how philosophically she accepted the CPO. 'It's been a good family home to us,' she said, 'but the house will soon be too small and the garden was always too big. Frankly, it's got beyond me and do you know how much a private gardener can get away with charging per hour these days? If they've decided to pay us enough to set up somewhere else with a communal garden, why should I object to a hundred students a year getting a comfortable hall of residence on those sites? My only worry is finding the right place soon enough and not having to make do with a temporary second best which would probably turn out to be a permanency.'
She looked around her at Underwood House. 'You know, I think we've found it,' she exclaimed with a satisfied smile.
It chanced that Harris Benton and Douglas were also on site at the time of her visit. The opportunity for an impromptu committee discussion was too good to miss. It soon became clear that the families represented would fit almost perfectly into the accommodation available.
The main entrance doors to Underwood House gave onto a generous hallway and a wide semicircular staircase which circled round a fat central column which contained the flue from the central heating boiler. Behind and below the stair was a large, old fashioned kitchen with several small sculleries, larders and preparation rooms. It happened that kitchens were the one area in which each participant was determined to gang their ain gait. The original kitchen, though arranged for a single household, had been sensibly fitted out and was backed by an attractive garden room. Douglas was only too well aware of the explosive mixture created by more than one woman to a kitchen, but the ladies of the proposed occupancy were remarkably like-minded. There was a general anxiety to get the initial stage of the work completed so that they could gain occupation and set about creating their individual kitchens.
Excerpted from With My Little Eye by Gerald Hammond. Copyright © 2011 Gerald Hammond. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.