The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.


Week 18

Hausmann, The Thief

Though he was never comfortable using the telephone, Hausmann called the office of John Noon at Ludgate & Smythe and enquired about his whereabouts. ‘Away on business’ was the reply and he was left in no doubt that the confidentiality of clients was more important than his impertinent curiosity. Instead, he asked if there was a home address he could direct a courier towards with an urgent delivery. The assistant gave him an address in Muswell Hill.

It was a large detached house with a garden at the front and back. Silken pink roses hung heavy either side of the garden gate. Hausmann pushed through the gate and followed the path that perfectly bisected the trim, uniform lawn.

The front door was open, as were the windows. There were no curtains, and Hausmann could see straight through the lounge, dining room, study and kitchen, taking in their bright yellows and greens and polka dot patterns.

He pulled his raincoat close around him as he stepped over the doormat, which carried the motto ‘Bless this mess’.

There was music now, the rasp of a jazz band playing on an unseen wireless in the kitchen. A woman was singing – not with the band, but here somewhere. The back door was open and Hausmann followed the woman’s voice through the kitchen and out into the back garden.

It was like stepping on board a tea clipper. Rows of white sheets billowed towards him, hung from washing lines that stretched from fence to fence right across the garden. Hausmann ducked under the lines and pushed his way through until he found the source of the voice. She was wearing a baby blue dress with a belt that brought it tight in around her narrow waist, with matching blue shoes and a blue Alice band keeping her hair clear of her face.

She saw Hausmann and yelped. He waited while she composed herself.

“I’m sorry,” she said, fluttering her hands at her neck, “I didn’t see you there. Such a giddy aunt! I do apologise.”

“No problem.”

“I’ve been a bit jumpy all week, really. You’d think that tablecloths would take care of themselves but no – they claimed they’re ‘freshly laundered’ but they just smelled so musty I had to give them an airing and I thought I might as well do the sheets and curtains at the same time, give the whole place a spring clean before the wedding and everything. Are you here with a delivery?”

“I’m a friend of John.”

“Oh! I’m sorry – again! I had no idea. I’m Elizabeth.”

She held out a delicate hand. Hausmann looked at it, reached forward and shook it gently.

“I’m afraid John isn’t here – he’s been sent overseas for work. Whom shall I say called?”

“George. We used to work together. Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Not the foggiest, I’m afraid. Well, you’ve worked together, you probably have a better idea than I do about what goes on over there.”

“Ah yes, over there... Did he say he was going to the Sofia office? Or is it Paris this time?”

“I really wouldn’t know. It’s none of my business really.”

“You’re remarkably trusting for a woman whose fiancé has just left the country days before his wedding. Was he nervous?”

“No, I’m – I’m sure it must be something very important.”

“I’d hope so, for him to miss his own wedding day.”

“He’s not going to miss it. Look, if you want to know where he’s gone, I’m sure you can speak to one of your other friends at Ludgate's and find out. All I know is that he’s chasing after some ship or other, as usual, and if he doesn’t get back by Sunday I will have 230 very unhappy guests. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot to be getting on with. I’ll let John know you called.”

She pulled aside a curtain and showed him a clear path to the door. Hausmann nodded and bobbed his way under the clotheslines, back towards the music and the colourful, well-aired house.

He wondered how a woman could be so obsessed with the smell of a tablecloth but not care about her husband’s whereabouts. Perhaps this was normal. It was not Hausmann’s particular area of expertise.

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