The sun was slipping behind the house as he parked his car between the Bentley and Mrs Norris’s little Hillman Minx. He looked up at the front of the house built of dark red brick with sandstone window arches, a Gothic Victorian mixture.
One room on the third floor had windows that opened out to a small balcony with a carved stone balustrade. To his left, another wing of the house jutted out to form an L shape, but again his eyes were drawn to that balcony.
The front door opened and Olivia stood there. For a moment they looked into each other’s eyes. It just needed one of them to shake their head, but neither did.
Carrying his briefcase, David stepped inside. There was no sign of Mrs Norris, and Olivia took him into the drawing-room. Andrew Drake was standing by the window, the inevitable glass in his hand. Good.
“Evening, Gilmore. I believe you’ve got some money for me. Drink?”
“Yes, I will, thank you.” David turned to Olivia. “A gin and tonic, if I may.”
“And I’ll have another.” Drake handed Olivia his glass.
David took some papers from his briefcase.
“Now, as you can see, the other driver’s insurers will pay your repair bill and, of course, my costs.”
“Good, good. So it’s settled, then.”
“Well, even though Mrs Drake suffered no physical injury, I think she must have been frightened and suffered shock, so I think we can press that point. Get a little more.”
“Excellent. You go for it.”
David put his papers away. He could feel Olivia’s eyes on him, and he waved his glass towards the window.
“You have a fine view of the garden here.”
Drake took the bait.
“What? You should see the view we do have. On a clear day, into the next county. Oh, yes.”
David looked from left to right in puzzlement.
“From the third floor.” Drake pointed upwards. “Come and see.”
As they left the room David gave a quick glance back at Olivia. Her eyes were large, her red lips slightly parted. She half raised her hand.
“I’ve often thought of putting in a lift but I’m not in my dotage yet.” Drake was panting slightly and his face was red with effort and drink.
Andrew Drake opened a door and David followed him into a small room. There was an old sideboard against the wall. In the centre of the room was a small table and two straight-back chairs. On the table was an open box. David could see threads, bobbins of cotton, needles, scissors, pieces of material.
“Mrs Norris uses it as a sewing-room occasionally. Now, come to the balcony. The best view in the county.”
“After you.” David laid his hand lightly on the shorter man’s shoulder. His heartbeat was fast and not just from the climb.
Both men stepped out on to the narrow balcony. David Gilmore glanced down to the ground, 50 or 60 feet below. His hand was slightly heavier on Drake’s shoulder.
“Now, just look at that, eh?” Drake said. His hand was on the carved stone balustrade. David could see the stone move slightly. A little trickle of mortar fell. Just one push. Just one push. He took hold of the top of Drake’s arm.
The stone began to topple. Drake lurched forward. One push!
David looked away and looked into the face of Mrs Norris in a window on the opposite wing of the house. He could see her open mouth, her wide eyes.
He yanked back on Drake’s arm as the masonry toppled. He heard it crash on the ground below as they staggered back into the room.
Drake slumped down on one of the chairs. His face was pale.
“By heck! By heck!” He looked at David. He shook his head. “That was close. By heck, that was close. For us both.”
As they left the room and started down the stairs they met Mrs Norris.
“I saw what happened. It was terrible! Are you both all right? You could have been killed.”
“We know, Mrs Norris, we know,” Drake said. “I don’t know about you, Gilmore, but I need a drink. Come on down.”
At the bottom of the stairs Olivia was looking up at them, her face quite white.
“I heard the crash. I thought . . . I thought . . .”
“The balustrade on the balcony gave way,” David told her. “We gave Mrs Norris a fright, too. She saw it happen.”
“Andrew, I’ll get you a drink. Mr Gilmore?”
“No. No, thank you,” he said.
“I’m glad you can play the dutiful wife,” Drake said with a short laugh. “You were almost a rich widow.”
She gave him the glass of whisky.
“Don’t joke like that, Andrew. I’d better go and see how Mrs Norris is. I’ll see you again, Mr Gilmore.”
As David left the house he saw the great stone, broken in half, in his path.