The Kensington Kidnap
"Epiphany Bloom is my new favourite female sleuth!... What a wonderful character… I am looking forward to more from this author!" r ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐NetGalley Reviewer
A missing teenager, a mysterious cult and a case of mistaken identity – just another day’s work for Epiphany Bloom.
Epiphany ‘Pip’ Bloom is down on her luck. She can barely afford cat food, and just because Most has three legs doesn’t mean he eats any less. So she absolutely can’t afford to mess up her latest temp job. But when she walks through the door of the private investigation firm, her new boss mistakes her for a missing persons expert. He then charges her with finding Matty Price – the teenage son of two A-list celebrities – who has mysteriously disappeared from his home in Kensington.
It ought to be a disaster, but Pip reckons it’s actually an opportunity. She’s always been curious (nosy, her mother calls it) and has an uncanny knack for being at the wrong place at the right time (she doesn’t want to know what her mother thinks of that). After years of trying to find something she’s good at, has Pip managed to walk straight into the job she was born to do?
She owes it to herself and poor missing Matty to find out.
But searching for Matty takes Pip into the strange, intimidating world of the rich and famous. And it soon becomes clear that some of these people’s love for themselves doesn’t extend to their fellow humans.
As Pip investigates further, she realises the question isn’t whether Matty ran away – it’s whether she will find him alive and make it home safely herself...
An absolutely brilliant, light-hearted cozy mystery for fans of M.C. Beaton, T E Kinsey, Lauren Elliott and Joanne Fluke, featuring an irresistible new heroine.
Release date: December 2, 2020
Print pages: 238
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The Kensington Kidnap
Her brain had woken enough to put the pieces together: crashing chords + ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ + Wagner = Mother. It was her mobile phone, and that was her mother’s signature ringtone. Pip had chosen it as a joke a few months ago and now she couldn’t remember how to change it back, so she was constantly harangued by Wagner. It had long since ceased to be funny, especially now, given the Mother Situation.
She retrieved the phone from the tangle of sheets and killed the call before dropping it back onto the bed. Where it rang again – more bloody Vikings – and again lit up with the name Mummy. She rejected the call a second time. From experience, Pip knew there would likely be a third. Mummy was not someone who readily took no (or two nos) for an answer, but Pip was not in the mood to talk. Certainly not to Mummy, or as Pip liked to call her, Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, since she had withdrawn her funding. She put the phone on silent and watched it light up again, which was more bearable without the Valkyries.
Pip sighed. She should really be used to Mummy’s yoyo-ing funds by now. Mummy might have enough money to keep Pip in the manner to which she would like to become accustomed, but she also had strong ideas about Young Ladies Being Independent. Which meant Pip had both a chequered financial history and a chequered employment history. You never really knew which way the wind would blow with the bank of Mummy, but right now it was clearly closed, and Pip didn’t know where her next latte was coming from. Or, more troublingly, the rent.
Pip lay back on the pillows and turned to face the other side of the double bed where, if her love life were in a better state right now, a gorgeous and devoted lover might be. Maybe even Tim, although she was beginning to give up hope that he would be anything more than a friendly and very decorative flatmate/landlord. Instead, on the lover’s side of the bed was a large and glossy celeb magazine (Pip’s shameful weakness – that and Twitter), and a three-legged tabby cat who was diligently licking his nether regions and purring.
Sighing, she picked up Hello! and indulged herself with an eight-page photo feature about movie stars and their kids. She knew she was a bit old-fashioned in her love of magazines, when the whole internet was bristling with up-to-the-minute gossip and pics. She followed all the celeb news subreddits and Instagram accounts, of course, but for Pip, nothing beat the smell and feel of a magazine.
The article about the celebs and their kids was very satisfying, although it certainly came down heavily on the nature side of the nature/nurture debate – every child was gorgeous, straight-toothed, silky-haired, and smiling for the camera. Even the teenagers looked remarkably pleasant. This one, for example – golden-haired, wrapped up in moss-green cashmere and posed against a forest of snow-tipped firs, spoke of his love for the clarinet and cross-country skiing, and how he wanted to make a difference in the world by teaching cross-country skiing to less privileged teenagers, and to help save the forests and trees. Pip thought about the months she’d spent skiing trails in Whistler when she worked there as a chalet girl. Mummy always said that every young lady should be able to ski. She had a moment of longing for the snow, the speed, the always-surprising cold, the smell of pines. If only Mummy weren’t so unreasonable about credit cards; a trip back to the mountains would be just the thing to cheer her up.
Above the slurping and purring, Pip heard Tim going about his morning routine: his slippers padding down the passage, the kitchen tap running, the click of the kettle. Then back down the passage to the bathroom and the rush of the shower water hitting those smooth shoulders, running down his back and those firm thighs. At least this morning there was only one set of padding feet: no sleepover pal, then. Pip sighed, tossed the magazine onto the floor, pushed the cat gently out of the way, and got out of bed. Ten minutes later she was at the kitchen table, the cafetière full of coffee for her and Tim.
‘Hey, Pip, you made coffee, thanks.’ As he reached for the pot, she admired the way his wrists emerged from the cuffs of his work shirt, the dark swirl of the hairs and then the creamy skin of the inner forearm. She pulled herself back to reality when she realised that Tim was talking. It looked like he was talking to his coffee, because he certainly wasn’t looking at her. But he seemed to be addressing her.
‘Listen, Pip, I’m really going to need that rent this week. I wish I could give you more time, but it’s three weeks overdue now and, you know, it’s…’ He tailed off, blushing with embarrassment. Pip could feel her own face burning at the shame of it.
‘Absolutely, Tim, I totally understand. Thanks for the breather, I’m on it now.’ She put on her confident face and improvised. ‘I’m starting with some temp work today, in fact. So it’s all good for the end of the week. I’ll have both months’ rent for you on Friday.’ She felt terrible lying to Tim. She didn’t like lying to anyone really, but lying to Tim was particularly bad, with those trusting puppy-dog eyes of his.
‘That’s great, Pip, I’m really pleased for you.’ He beamed, shining his genuinely happy face towards her, those soft wide lips and his teeth so straight and white they could be American. He really was so ridiculously nice, in addition to being gorgeous. Pip felt even worse lying to him about the work lined up for today. The only thing she had lined up for today was finishing Hello! magazine and trawling Twitter. And perhaps a shower, if she could be bothered.
‘Better go get myself ready, in fact,’ she said, taking her coffee cup and heading for the door. ‘Don’t want to be late on my first day.’
‘Yes, you’d better do something about that bed hair, even though I’m generally a fan of it,’ said Tim. ‘I’m off to work too. Good luck, I hope it goes really well. See you later.’
Pip considered his parting comment. Had he been flirting, or just telling her that her hair was a mess? She sighed. It was so hard to tell with men, but she was almost sure he had been telling her to tidy it up.
With Tim gone, at least she could drop the charade. There would be no dressing for work. She slouched back to the kitchen table, still in her jammies, with her coffee, her phone, a notepad and a pen. Lying to Tim had made her realise what a mess this all was. If she didn’t pay the rent, even kind-hearted Tim would throw her out. And then, instead of this wonderful flat in Kennington – even if Mummy always turned up her nose and said, ‘one letter and a whole world away from Kensington, darling’ – she and Most would be living on the street. Or, even worse, with Mummy. Pip would brainstorm her options, make a list, prioritise, decide what to do. This irresponsible approach to life had been all very well in her twenties, but she needed to start behaving like a responsible adult.
Opening a fresh new page, she wrote at the top: OPTIONS.
Pip wrote firmly, the biro scratching into the paper. She paused. She tipped back in her chair, staring at the ceiling for a long moment. She could still see the mark from that time she’d made the toaster explode. No point letting it distract her now. Then she tried looking out of the window, but it was just a view of the neighbour’s drainpipes. With a sigh, she tilted the chair forward until the front legs hit the floor with a smack. She looked down at the paper and wrote next to the numeral: Loan from Mummy.
Again the biro scratched the number into the paper, again with rather more certainty than Pip felt. Next to the number 2 she wrote: Get a job.
She pressed more lightly. Kidney?
Slightly more realistic than a loan from Mummy, but really a very last resort that Pip would prefer to avoid. And she wasn’t sure they would accept her kidney after that bout of hepatitis when she’d been stuck in the swamps in Botswana.
For option number 4, nothing. Nada. That was it. Those were her options.
She crossed out ‘Loan from Mummy’. Mummy had made it clear where she stood on this.
Then she crossed out Kidney?
There was only one thing for it: get a job. Again. Despite her singular lack of success in gaining and keeping employment – really, just a lot of crazy misunderstandings, mistakes and disasters not of her making – she was going to have to try once again to find work. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a job, or to work for her crust, but the jobs never seemed to pan out. Steeling herself, she reached for her phone and began scrolling through the contacts hoping for ideas, stopping at anyone who looked like a possibility: someone who could help out, give her some work, suggest a solution.
Bill Beekeeper – not likely after that incident with the hive and the tractor which, frankly, could have happened to anyone.
Someone just called J. Wonder who J is, or was? Could it be worth asking J for a job? Certainly more likely than a loan from Mummy.
Neighbour Across the Road – except the road was in Madrid, from her stint there; that was no use.
Tall Alice – who was she again?
Temp Agency – Sharon.
Pip sighed. She really didn’t want to phone Sharon, after the way things had ended last time, but she didn’t want to phone Sharon marginally less than she didn’t want to phone Mummy. Maybe Sharon had forgotten about the cat thing. Pip sighed and pushed ‘call’ next to Sharon’s name, and was somewhat surprised when she answered. People do start work at the most ungodly hours.
‘Sharon, hi, it’s Epiphany Bloom here – Pip. How are you?’ One thing about Pip: she could really perk up that voice, even if she was disheartened and sitting at her kitchen table in her PJs.
‘Well, this is a surprise. How’s the cat?’
Not forgotten then. Snippy woman.
‘How kind of you to ask. Most is doing very well, thank you. He’s really settled in.’
Pip hesitated. ‘That’s his name. He’s most of a cat, not a full one… the missing leg… So, um…’
The cat’s name was rather like Mummy’s ringtone – funny at the time, but probably not as clever as it had seemed at first, in retrospect.
After a pause, Sharon sighed out a sentence: ‘What is it that you want, Epiphany?’
‘Well, I’m hoping it’s what I can do for you! The good news is that I’ve just finished a great consulting contract, and I’m between jobs at the moment, so I’m available for temp work if you have anything on your books.’ She didn’t feel bad lying to Sharon the way she felt bad lying to Tim.
‘Are you kidding me? After the last time? That disaster with the vet? They swore never to use us for temps again after, and I’m quoting here, “That crazy girl made off with the cripple cat.”’
‘Yes, I’d like to apologise for that, I’m really sorry that they’re not using you. Honestly, I couldn’t be sorrier. But, Sharon, I did explain that there were extenuating circumstances.’
It was true. The people who had run over the cat and brought him in to the vet had scarpered after they heard the surgery to save the leg was unsuccessful, the cat was now one leg short, and the bill had run to many hundreds of quid. Bastards. They didn’t fetch him or pay the bill, and the vet was going to put the cat down. If those weren’t extenuating circumstances, Pip didn’t know what was. Pip had abandoned the front desk where she was stationed, grabbed the cat from his cage in the recovery room, tucked him under her arm, and run for the door.
‘You stole a patient from the veterinarian. I’m not interested in the circumstances, Epiphany.’ Sharon sounded distinctly distracted. Pip heard the tap of typing through the phone, but she continued nonetheless.
‘You are quite right, no point in rehashing the whole thing. It turned out quite well in the end. I mean, Most is very happy and, you know, alive, so that’s a good thing. I for one would be prepared to let bygones be bygones and re-establish our professional relationship.’
The clicking of keys filled the silence. And then Sharon sighed again and said, ‘You know what? If you can start today, something’s just come in and they seem rather desperate. Possibly even desperate enough to put up with you.’
In what might have been the fastest personal grooming turnaround in recorded history, Pip was showered, made up, hair dried to a shine, and dressed in just under nine minutes. Thank goodness she’d recently decided against pink hair and stuck with her natural colour – a dark blonde – because this didn’t sound like a pink hair sort of job. Whatever, a few highlights were definitely on the list for payday.
Some might say she was overdressed, and by quite some measure, for the job of temporary filing clerk. But this was a fresh start and a good impression was imperative, so she broke out the good suit she’d had made by a tailor in Singapore when she’d thought she’d bagged that media relations job at the Singapore Stock Exchange. The job didn’t come through, but the suit was magnificent.
She had tapped the link on Sharon’s email (the body of the email consisted mostly of warnings and threats) and Google-mapped it. The client, Boston Investigations, was in Elephant and Castle, about a fifteen-minute walk away; a sure sign that the job was meant to be. The name of the new workplace also sounded intriguing, like an American PI firm in one of the dog-eared old paperbacks she used to pick up by the dozen at the second-hand bookshop when she was in her teens. She’d adored them – the intrigue, the smoking, the implied sex, the damaged bad guys, the plot twists that even aged fifteen she could see coming by page fifty. Seriously, she was like a clairvoyant. Even Mummy thought her ability to tell what was going to happen in TV shows and movies was uncanny. Pity she couldn’t get paid to do that.
Sharon hadn’t said what the company did, but it was probably some sort of deathly dull accounting and audit outfit, investigating expense account infringements or something. Aha, Bill, I see you bought the two-ply lavatory paper, when company policy specifies single-ply. It didn’t matter much; filing was filing.
Anyway – RENT MONEY, Pip. Keep your eye on the pay cheque, she told herself as she bobbed and weaved through the pedestrians and cars, trying not to be tempted by the mouth-watering smells coming from the cafes and empanada stalls, managing to get only briefly stranded on a large roundabout. She was tall and long-limbed (gangly, Mummy called it) and a fast walker, so she was always coming up behind a slow walker and trying to scoot by. More often than not, this resulted in her walking straight into another person on the overtake. Having been raised in a mid-sized village, the sheer number of people in London still amazed her. On a country lane, if you found yourself stuck behind a slow cow, you could just give it a sharp tap on the bum and it would move out of your way. But you couldn’t do that with a slow walker in London. Pip had discovered the hard way.
Boston Investigations was in a small office building, set, rather strangely, between a trendy-looking juice bar and an old-fashioned dry cleaner’s just hanging on in the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood. She’d probably walked past it a hundred times without noticing. Pip quickly sent Sharon a message that she was here, and that she hadn’t let her down or run off with a cat, and then rang the bell. ‘Hello, I’m here from the agency to—’
She was buzzed in before she’d even finished the sentence, and she walked up two flights of stairs to an opaque glass door with the company logo etched into it.
‘They’ve been waiting for you,’ the receptionist said, giving Pip a once over. She looked impressed. Pip was glad that she had decided on her good suit.
‘Come on.’ She walked round her desk and led Pip down the passage. She knocked on a door and opened it without waiting for an answer.
‘She’s here,’ she hissed in a stage whisper to a man standing in front of a screen, looking as if he was about to present. ‘From the agency.’
‘Ah, come in. I’m Doug Bradford, we spoke on the phone,’ the man said, gesturing Pip towards an empty chair on the far side of the conference table. A pile of three or four files was stacked neatly in front of her seat. It did not seem like a sufficiently large stack to require a temp filing clerk.
‘We did? I’m—’
He talked right over her. ‘You’re late. Take a seat, I’ve just started.’
Pip sighed and sat down. Men who don’t listen. Nothing new there. To her left was a tough-looking young man about her age, the forehead of what would have been a model’s face cut diagonally with a silvery scar that was more Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Harry Potter. On her other side was a bespectacled older woman with a laptop open in front of her. Two more men sat across from her, closer to the presenter. They all had similar stacks of files, three or four. Even cumulatively, there didn’t seem to be enough to justify a temp.
On the screen flashed a picture of the same clarinet-playing cross-country-skiing teen she’d seen in the magazine, this time in jeans and a fashionably distressed T-shirt.
‘That’s Matty Price!’ The words popped out of her mouth. ‘He’s the son of Madison Price, the actress, and Ben Price, the novelist.’
Doug turned to her in surprise. ‘How did you know that it’s Matty Price who’s missing? I didn’t mention his name, or his family. No one knows but the people in this room.’
‘You have a great big picture of him up on the screen,’ Pip pointed out. ‘And, I was reading…’ She stopped, embarrassed to admit to her Hello! habit.
‘Glad to see you’ve done your homework,’ Doug said, ignoring both her unfinished sentence and the fact that she hadn’t done any homework at all. He gave her a look of . . .
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