“Sacked?” Witherspoon repeated. “And your family has no idea you no longer have a job?”
Percy nodded. “That’s correct. I wouldn’t have said anything about the matter except you’re going to speak to my former employer. I know this makes me look very bad, but I assure you, I’ve nothing to do with my stepmother’s murder. I simply don’t like working. Well, that wasn’t the exact situation. It was more a case that my employer didn’t appreciate the hours I wanted to keep. Apparently, they expect you to be there from early in the morning until half past five or even six o’clock in the evening.”
Surprised, Witherspoon simply stared at the man. It took him a good thirty seconds to recover and ask another question. “When were you sacked?”
“At the end of September.”
“You’ve been pretending to have a job since the end of September?” Witherspoon pressed. He wanted to understand, to ask how on earth anyone could possibly keep up such a tiring charade? But other than satisfying his own curiosity, the man’s employment situation probably had very little to do with Mrs. Andover’s murder. On the other hand, from what he’d learned of the dead woman, she might have been the driving force behind Percy hiding his employment situation. He could well have kept up the pretense because he was worried she’d ban him from the house.
“I think my sister is starting to suspect.” He frowned, then brightened. “But the others are completely in the dark, and if you don’t mind my asking, I’d like to keep it that way. At least until after the funeral. Father doesn’t need any additional unpleasant surprises.”
“If you weren’t at work yesterday, where were you?”
Percy steepled his hands together under his chin in a thoughtful pose. “Let me see, to begin with, I generally go to the park--”
The inspector interrupted, “Which park?”
“Hyde Park, of course. I love watching the horses and the riders trotting down Rotten Row. Though lately there haven’t been so many of them because the weather has been so dreadfully miserable.”
“What time did you leave the park, and where did you go after that?” Witherspoon asked.
“It was very cold yesterday morning, so I didn’t stay very long.” He drew in a deep breath and expelled it slowly. “I went to Paddington Station--it’s a nice walk and gets me a bit of exercise, which I understand is quite good for one. Once there, I bought a copy of The Standard and then had a cup of tea in the cafe. Train stations are very useful, especially this time of year.” He paused and shoved his spectacles back up his nose. “They’re warm, and if someone happens to see you there, they’ll simply assume you either stopped in for a quick cup of tea or are going on a business trip. In other words, Inspector, if someone spotted me at Paddington or one of the other train stations at that time of day, they’d think nothing of it. No one would assume I was there because I was unemployed.”
“How long were you at the station?”
“I always stay until it’s close to morning opening time for the pubs, then I find a nice place and settle in.”
“A pub near the station? Then someone should remember you being there,” Witherspoon began, only to be interrupted.
“Oh no, no, the pubs around that area are far too close to here,” Percy explained. “I always go to one further afield, if you get my meaning. Yesterday I went to the White Horse in Islington. I was there from right after morning opening until just after lunchtime, so I’m certain the barman or the barmaid will remember me.”
“You didn’t meet anyone at the pub?”
He shook his head. “No, the point of going there was simply to have a warm place to sit while I waited for the hours to pass. After that, I went for a long walk.” He laughed self-consciously. “Usually I limit how much I drink, but I had a bit more than I should yesterday so I walked until midafternoon, by which time I judged I was sober enough to come home.”
Witherspoon couldn’t help himself--he had to ask. “Mr.
Andover, is going to a pub a daily habit?”
“Oh no, Inspector,” he replied. “I don’t always go to a pub. Sometimes I go shopping on Bond Street or I go to a museum--not the British Museum, of course. Running into Daniel wouldn’t be helpful to me, would it? I rather like to read, so sometimes I’ll go and explore the wonderful book shops on Charing Cross Road.”
The inspector nodded as if he understood, but he didn’t. He couldn’t fathom how someone could keep up such a strange pretense. “Did you see anyone you know when you were walking yesterday?” Percy Andover’s whereabouts for the afternoon were almost impossible to verify. Witherspoon wondered if they should even bother trying. Mrs. Andover was definitely alive when Percy arrived home yesterday.
“Of course not, Inspector.” Percy looked at him as if he were a half-wit. “Haven’t you understood what I’ve been telling you? The only place where it would be safe to be seen is the train station. But once I’m away from there, the whole point of the exercise is to avoid being spotted by someone who knows me. I take great pains to avoid streets and neighborhoods where I might be seen by a friend or an acquaintance. I must say, it’s getting a bit tiresome. Once Father gets over Harriet’s death, I’ll tell him the truth.”
“Are you suggesting it was your stepmother more than your father who would have been the most upset by your losing your position?” Witherspoon watched him carefully as he asked the question. Surely Andover realized this could well be a motive for murder.
“Of course it was her doing. Do you think my father would have insisted his only son work in some nasty little office? My father is a gentleman. She’s the one who forced the issue,” he complained. “Her middle-class sensibilities were ridiculous. She had no idea about how a true gentleman should live. It was her idea that I should spend my days grubbing around with accounting lists in that silly office.”
“If she’d found out you were sacked, would she have asked you to leave this house?”
“She might have tried such a thing. But that would have been one battle she wouldn’t have won. My father owns this house, and he’d not let his own flesh and blood be tossed into the street. Once this situation has been sorted out, it’ll be a relief to start living like a gentleman again.” He smiled as he spoke, but his good mood quickly disappeared. He leaned closer to Witherspoon. “Since I got the sack, Inspector, I’ve had to dip into what little savings I have just to pay my club fees and other bills. She was a most unreasonable person. Before she insisted I work, she gave me a quarterly allowance. But once I had the job, she cut it off completely!”
(c) Emily Brightwell, Berkley Prime Crime/PRH, 2021. Shared with permission from the publisher.
A Victorian Mystery #40
Mrs. Jeffries and Inspector Witherspoon should be checking off their Christmas present list but instead they're listing murder suspects in this latest entry of the beloved Victorian Mystery series.
Harriet Andover had no intention of dying young like her silly siblings had. She intended to outlive them and outdo them as she always had. But Harriet discovers that the best intentions can lead to murder when she is strangled inside her mansion with a house full of holiday guests.
As much as Inspector Witherspoon enjoys his job delivering justice, the last thing he wanted was a complicated murder case just a week before Christmas. He soon discovers that Harriet's own husband and grown stepchildren are not overcome with grief and neither are most of her friends. And to put the icing on the Christmas cookies, the room where Harriet's body was found was locked from the inside and she had the only key in her pocket.
Mrs. Jeffries and the household have no intention of letting their inspector down and learn that Harriet's sister may have died from foul play as well. As the clues mount, this dedicated band of merry sleuths will not rest until they've delivered a stocking full of coal to a crafty killer.
Mystery Private Eye | Mystery Historical [Berkley, On Sale: November 16, 2021, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593101087 / eISBN: 9780593101094]
Emily Brightwell was born in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. Her family moved to Southern California in 1959 and she grew up in Pasadena. After graduating from California State University, she decided to work her way around the world and took off for England. She didn’t get much further because she met the man who became her husband, got married, and had two children. While working in international shipping, she decided to pursue her dream and become a writer-which, of course, is the best job ever. She lives in California with her husband and a cranky old cat named Kiwi.
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