The Kitt Hartley Mysteries: the first three books in the charming cozy crime series from Helen Cox, perfect for fans of Betty Rowlands or Faith Martin. Murder by the Minster (Book 1) It's a perfectly normal day for Kitt Hartley at her job at the University of the Vale of York library, until Detective Inspector Halloran arrives at her desk to tell her that her best friend, Evie Bowes, is under suspicion of murder. Evie's ex-boyfriend Owen has been found dead - with a fountain pen stabbed through his heart - and all the evidence points to her. Kitt knows there is no way Evie could murder anyone - let alone Owen, who she adored. Horrified that the police could have got it so wrong, Kitt decides there's only one thing to do: she's going to investigate Owen's murder herself. She's read hundreds of mystery novels - how hard can it be? A Body in the Bookshop (Book 2) When DS Charlotte Banks is suspended from the police on suspicion of assaulting a suspect in the burglary of a local bookshop, librarian Kitt Harley and her friend Evie Bowes refuse to believe she is guilty. But why is she being framed? With Charlotte's boss DI Malcolm Halloran unable to help, Evie decides to take matters into her own hands. Kitt takes little persuading to get involved too - after all, as well as Charlotte's career to save, there are missing books to be found! Then the discovery of a body raises the stakes even higher. For Evie, and now Kitt, this case is as personal as it gets. Can they catch the murderer in time to turn a bleak midwinter into something merry and bright? Murder on the Moorland (Book 3) Kitt Hartley wakes to the news that a murder has been committed in Irendale, a village high on the wild Yorkshire moors where her boyfriend, DI Malcolm Halloran, lived with his ex-wife until she too, was murdered. The MO of the two crimes is identical, right down to the runic symbols carved into the victims' hands. Unable to leave it to the local police to solve, Kitt and Halloran travel to Irendale, where a literary mystery awaits. A line of Anglo-Saxon poetry found on the victim leads to a hiding place, and another cryptic clue. What is the connection to the murder of Halloran's wife all those years ago?
Release date: May 21, 2020
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Print pages: 773
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The Collected Kitt Hartley Mysteries
The corner of Kitt Hartley’s mouth twitched. She closed her eyes, praying that when she opened them again Grace, her assistant, would be standing in front of her with the hot cup of Lady Grey she’d gone to fetch over fifteen minutes ago. Instead, when Kitt lifted her eyelids, she was still faced with the man in the forest green anorak. He still smelled like cabbage that had been on the boil too long, and his dark bushy eyebrows remained raised as he waited for an answer.
‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles?’ Kitt repeated the book title that had caused her lips to twitch.
‘Aye, I can’t find it. Our lecturer said it was a classic. Surely you’ve got a copy? This is supposed to be a library,’ said Cabbage.
The librarian ran her fingers through the front of her long red hair. The gesture would seem natural enough to the student, while giving her the opportunity to tug on the copper strands, channelling her frustration. ‘Yes, we have several copies, sir, on the fiction floor. You see, this is the Women’s Studies section.’ Kitt’s stare flitted across to the large maroon sign at the top of the staircase that read, with excruciating clarity, ‘Women’s Studies’.
Countless times she had been forgiving about the fact that people entering a library didn’t switch their grey matter to Reading Mode on the way in. With its towering oak bookshelves, stained-glass windows, and high ceilings painted with ornate murals, the Vale of York University Library could be an intimidating environment for newcomers. But, on this particular Monday morning, Kitt was still hungover from the weekend, and had a limited supply of patience. Especially pre-cuppa.
‘Oh.’ The man’s almond eyes widened to walnut-size. He tilted his head back, as if he were taking in the details of his whereabouts for the first time. ‘Well . . .’ Cabbage said, ‘I’ve only been studying here a week. Still orientating myself.’
‘Of course,’ Kitt said, forcing a smile so the man might feel less embarrassed over his failure to check what floor he was on before asking a question, ‘it is a tricky place to find your way around at first, but you get used to it.’ She smiled up at the mural on the patch of ceiling above her desk; it depicted Prometheus gifting humanity with the spark of fire. ‘Give this place even half a chance and, before you know it, it will feel like a second home.’
‘Mmm,’ Cabbage said in the flattest of all possible tones. ‘But I don’t see why we need a Women’s Studies section anyway . . .’
‘Excuse me?’ Kitt said, hoping she’d heard wrong, but knowing, by the heat flaring in her chest, she hadn’t.
‘Well, there’s no Men’s Studies section, is there?’ he replied.
Kitt’s mouth twitched again. If the man had merely rubbished her job she could have handled that; she had taken that kind of disservice on the chin for years. But comments like this came out of a dangerous sense of entitlement. Why did this man think he had the right to silence voices that weren’t his?
With a storm brewing across her brow, Kitt mentally flicked through the dozen or so books she’d read on mindfulness. She recalled one particular chapter suggesting it helped to identify the physical feeling anger caused in your body. If you could alleviate that, the calm was supposed – by some sort of spiritual osmosis – to pass to your brain.
According to the textbooks, most people experienced anger as a perpetual clenching of the shoulders. In Kitt’s case it was a searing sensation in her chest. There didn’t seem much point in intellectualizing that feeling. If it were muscular, a person could take up Pilates. There was, however, no easy way to put out a bonfire blazing in your ribcage. By the letter of scientific law, deep breaths would add more oxygen to the flames.
‘Actually,’ Kitt said, ‘we do have a whole floor almost completely devoted to Men’s Studies. It’s called the History section.’
The man’s face scrunched in on itself as he digested Kitt’s comment. ‘That’s very rude.’
Kitt put a hand on her hip. ‘So is suggesting that stories different to your own aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.’
The man opened his mouth to say something else, but was interrupted by Grace’s thick West Yorkshire accent – her vowels were almost as hard as her consonants.
‘Lady Grey tea for the lady,’ said Grace, as the soothing perfume of citrus floated up to Kitt’s nose.
‘Thank you.’ Kitt accepted the mug and snuggled back into her pine-green office chair to which she’d added a plush purple cushion, embroidered with a peacock, to make it a more inviting place to sit. Cabbage glared at her. Avoiding his eye, she concentrated on smoothing the creases in her ankle-length navy skirt. This, alongside a white shirt, navy blazer and tan belt had, over the years, become her unofficial work uniform. Her wardrobe boasted several variations on this outfit, and little else.
Cabbage grunted, scowled at the two women, and walked away, muttering.
‘What’s up with him?’ asked Grace, shaking her head hard enough to make her shoulder-length brown-black curls undulate.
‘I think he’s a bit put out that his early morning round of casual sexism didn’t go to plan,’ Kitt said, blowing on her beverage before taking the first sip. The balmy liquid slipped down her throat, extinguishing the flames stoked by her first customer of the day. But, as the fire burned down to embers, those familiar, doubtful moments amongst the ashes began. Perhaps she should have found another way to speak to that man . . .
‘Oh dear,’ said Grace. ‘Can’t imagine you’re in the mood for that this morning. But I am a bit surprised you’re still hungover from Friday night. You’re usually quite good at handling booze.’
‘Friday and Saturday night, thank you. Two nights on the trot,’ Kitt protested. ‘I blame Evie . . . or Meg Ryan, I can’t decide.’
‘Meg Ryan?’ said Grace. ‘Somehow I can’t imagine her down the Nag’s Head with you and Evie on a Saturday night, pint in hand.’
‘Me and Evie are good company. Meg Ryan would be lucky to have us,’ said Kitt, smiling at the thought of her best friend, even if she was at least partly to blame for her hangover. Still, it seemed Evie wasn’t feeling any spryer than she. Every Monday morning, Kitt received a message from Evie telling her just how much she wished she didn’t have to go back into work. Every Monday, except today. Evie was something of a text addict, so if she couldn’t face her phone screen she must be feeling it – sherry really was the fluid of the devil.
Glancing up, Kitt saw Grace executing her most sheepish gesture: tucking a curl behind her left ear before covering her mouth with her hand to hide a smirk.
‘What?’ asked Kitt.
‘Nothing, what you said was amusing,’ Grace said, with a dismissive wave. The turquoise sleeves of her long-line floral cardigan, which she had thrown on over a pair of blue jeans and a white shirt, dazzled against the tan of her skin, which had deepened in tone after her September trip to India to visit her maternal grandparents.
Kitt shook her head. Grace had studied Psychology at the university for a year now, fitting library shifts around lectures to subsidize the commute she made from Leeds every day. But over the months of examining human behaviour, it seemed, she had not clocked how telling her own tics were. She had a neat, somewhat pointed face, with sharp cheekbones that emphasized even the slightest expression.
‘That’s not what you’re smiling at. It’s the mug again, isn’t it? Are you ever going to get over that?’
‘Never!’ said Grace, watching Kitt sip again from the mug she’d bought her for her birthday back in April. It was neon yellow, with the words ‘Kiss the Librarian’ written across it in tall black lettering. ‘That was the best day ever.’
‘Grace . . .’ Kitt tried, but it was too late. Her assistant had already snatched the maroon trilby resting on Kitt’s desk. It had a black ribbon sewn just above the rim, and from autumn through to spring, Kitt was never seen without it. It also served as a useful prop for Grace’s impromptu, and often unwelcome, skits.
Grace perched the hat on her head and held her hands six inches apart. ‘A gift? For me? Oh, really, Grace, we haven’t known each other long enough for that malarkey.’
Kitt smirked. ‘I am nowhere near that posh.’
Ignoring her boss’s protests, Grace continued to mime opening a box. ‘Oh, how awfully delightful, a receptacle for my beverages . . . but do you think the wording is entirely work appropriate?’
‘Give over, will you,’ said Kitt, whipping her hat off Grace’s head. ‘You make me sound like Hyacinth Bucket on steroids.’
In any other part of the world, this kind of insubordination would have been interpreted as a sign of dislike. But born and bred in Middlesbrough, Kitt understood how interchangeable affection and mockery were in the county of Yorkshire. By this marker, Grace’s gift to a woman who hadn’t been on anything that resembled a date since the pair had crossed paths was a sign of undying admiration. For this reason, she had used the gift every day without fail.
And besides, even taking Grace’s cheeky streak into account, Kitt understood she was lucky to have the luxury of an assistant. It pained Kitt to think about it, but she knew from her training days, and friends she had in other institutions, that public libraries all over the country were surviving only thanks to kind-hearted volunteers.
‘When you’re done laughing at my expense, could you please start on the returns pile?’
A smile lingered on Grace’s thin lips as she pressed two fingers to the side of her head in a cheeky salute, and approached the first of the returned-book trolleys.
Swallowing a few more mouthfuls of tea, Kitt brought a hand to the side of her own head and gave the area a gentle rub. The older she got, the higher the price for having fun, especially when drink was involved. Hardy was right, Kitt thought, remembering the title of the fifth phase in Tess of the d’Urbervilles: ‘The Woman Pays’, indeed.
Looking out of the nearest window, Kitt began fiddling with a pendant she wore every day, etched with a quote from Jane Eyre. She sighed at the autumnal scene beyond. For all she had read, no verse or paragraph had ever romanticized death in quite the way an autumn day in the city of York could. The view was like a line Keats might have dreamed up but never got around to committing to the page. The rosehips and rowan berries blazed with a primal fire in the hedgerows. The river path was a trail of fallen conkers, pine cones and ivy leaves, and the dawn redwood trees glowed like embers against the sky. As if all this decaying beauty weren’t enough, the university campus was close to the city centre and the Minster bells carried clear and true across the Ouse. A rousing sound, so often heard in the library’s mock-Tudor building, which stood on the south bank of the river, on the periphery of Rowntree Park.
Suddenly, Kitt felt two sharp jabs on her right shoulder. This was an established code between herself and Grace. It meant it was time to look busy.
Looking up, Kitt saw her manager, Michelle, stalking towards her desk. Grace, with rabbit-like fear in her dark eyes, picked three more books than she could carry with any degree of comfort from the trolley and scurried off in the direction of the bookshelves.
Kitt sat up straighter and brought up the most complicated spreadsheet she could summon at speed on her computer screen. Michelle had a gorgon-strength judgemental stare that could transform even the gutsiest hearts to stone. Right now that stare was fixed on Kitt.
‘Michelle,’ Kitt said, trying not to cringe at the use of her Sunday name. ‘Everything all right?’
Kitt feigned surprise; nothing was ever all right in the world of Michelle. Her lips turned down at the corners without any effort on her part, and even her bobbed mouse-brown hair looked limp with displeasure.
No bounce. No volume. No sign of life.
‘We’ve had a complaint,’ said Michelle, cradling a lilac clipboard against her chest.
‘Oh dear,’ said Kitt, ‘about what?’
So Cabbage had already filed his complaint? That was quick.
‘A lady you served on Friday? Apparently, you, and I quote: “squashed her right to freedom of speech”.’
‘Oh, that,’ Kitt said.
Kitt could hear one of Michelle’s winter boots tapping against the library floor, which was tiled with a blue mosaic: a ceramic ocean that washed over all six levels of the building.
‘She made a racist comment to another member of the library reading group.’
‘She never mentioned saying anything out of turn to me,’ said Michelle.
And you never thought to give me the benefit of the doubt, thought Kitt, after a decade of service. ‘It wouldn’t be in her interests to.’
Michelle folded her arms. ‘You mustn’t tolerate discriminatory remarks, but you must handle these situations politely.’
Kitt felt a strong urge to pass an ill-advised comment about doing her best to be nice to racists in future, but instead she let out a sigh heavy enough that Michelle would guess she had a few more things she’d like to say. ‘I’ll be as polite as I can,’ Kitt said, which was the best promise she could make.
‘Thank you,’ Michelle said, though nothing in her face conveyed gratitude. ‘So you know, I’m not in this afternoon. Hospital appointment.’
Michelle had suffered with stomach ulcers for as long as Kitt had worked with her.
‘Hope it goes all right.’
‘’Ello, love,’ a husky, familiar voice interjected.
Kitt turned to see Ruby Barnett hobbling towards the student enquiry desk. Ruby was a woman in her late eighties who frequented the library, though she had no connection whatsoever to the university. She suffered with arthritis, and as a consequence had to use walking sticks. She was panting from her ascent up two flights of stairs. There was a lift at her disposal, but she had always refused to use it for undisclosed reasons. This morning, however, she seemed to be more out of breath than usual. Which could only mean one thing: she’d had another psychic vision.
‘We really must find a way of tightening security around here,’ Michelle huffed in Ruby’s direction.
Ruby curled her lip at Michelle’s comment, but kept her eyes fixed on Kitt.
Michelle had never been Ruby’s biggest fan, but six months ago the old woman had told Michelle she’d had a vision about her. In Ruby’s imaginings, fuelled by the dubious dandelion wine she fermented in her bathtub, Michelle was going to be offered an opportunity to travel to South America and make an important discovery. As the weeks drifted on and the only travelling she’d done was a weekend away in Cleethorpes, Michelle’s attitude towards Ruby had shifted from mild disdain to blatant irritation.
‘I’ve seen it this time, Kitt. Something really important,’ Ruby said, between huffs.
‘Course you have,’ said Michelle, her gorgon glare resurfacing.
‘Why don’t you sit down?’ Kitt said, indicating the chair in front of the desk. Ruby’s psychic predictions never came to anything, at least at no greater rate than the averages of probability, and did no real harm, but Kitt did worry about how excitable she got over them. Michelle probably wasn’t in favour of Ruby making herself comfortable, but it seemed kind to at least offer her a chair while she collected herself.
‘Not a second to waste, not a second to waste,’ said Ruby, though she slumped down in the seat anyway. ‘It’s about your future. Your very near future.’
Kitt looked at the old lady. Her short hair was dyed a diverting shade of orange, and clashed with the over sized magenta raincoat she had on. There was no telling what was going on underneath that raincoat either. Once, in the middle of June, Ruby had walked into the library dressed as one of Santa’s elves, and hadn’t feel the need to explain her sartorial choice to anyone. Entertaining as all this was, Kitt wasn’t convinced she wanted to hear Ruby’s version of her near future.
‘If it’s my near future, dear Ruby, then I’ll know about it soon enough,’ Kitt said, in the hope of calming the old woman down.
‘No, no,’ Ruby said, her green eyes bulging. ‘I saw them.’
‘Who?’ Kitt asked.
‘Police officers. Two. A man and a woman, they’re looking for you.’
Kitt’s head hopped back an inch. ‘Police officers? I don’t think . . .’
‘Er, Kitt . . .’ said Grace, who had just come back to pick up more books from the returns pile.
‘What?’ Kitt said, with a bit more snap in her tone than she intended.
‘Look,’ Grace replied.
Kitt followed the direction of Grace’s wide-eyed stare to see two suited strangers, a man and a woman, walking towards them with an air of brisk authority.
‘Excuse me, ladies,’ said the male officer when he and his female counterpart reached the desk. His accent was local, but there were some unfamiliar edges to his words that Kitt couldn’t quite place. He paused, and as his gaze sauntered around the group, Kitt noticed his eyes were the same blue as the ocean on a stormy day, much darker than her own, which were best likened to blue topaz. He looked at Michelle, Grace, and Ruby in turn, before his eyes landed, and remained, on Kitt. He then adjusted his posture to stand a little taller, produced an identification card from his inside pocket, and held it up so everyone present could see. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Malcolm Halloran, and this is Detective Sergeant Charlotte Banks.’ The detective indicated his colleague, who lowered her head in a single, stiff nod. ‘We’re looking for Katherine Hartley.’
Rising from her chair, the librarian frowned at Grace. She could feel Michelle’s glare, but didn’t dare look in her direction.
‘Yes, that’s me,’ Kitt said. ‘Is everything all right?’ It was a silly question to ask, and she knew it. The police didn’t come looking for you when everything was all right, and in a split second her mind was working faster than her mouth. ‘Wait – are my family OK? It’s not Mam or Dad, is it? Or . . . not Rebecca?’
Rebecca was Kitt’s twin sister, a doctor who worked in a hospital up in Northumberland. The pair had always been close, but they’d never had the ‘twin thing’ where you’re supposed to feel something somewhere in your body if the other is in danger or sick or dying.
‘We’re not here about your family,’ said Halloran. His voice was deep but gentle, and he raised two firm-looking hands in the air to signal that Kitt should calm herself.
Placing her palm against her chest, Kitt closed her eyes for a moment.
‘Sorry,’ said Kitt. ‘I’m not in the habit of receiving police visits.’
Halloran didn’t quite smile, but pressed his lips together in acknowledgement. He looked again between Grace, Michelle, and Ruby’s open-mouthed faces. ‘Can we speak in private? It’s a . . . rather sensitive situation.’
That sounded ominous.
As a keen reader, Kitt was adept at deciphering the world around her. The sky, the rivers, the ragged faces of the aged, stone buildings that comprised the city of York. And, of course, she read people. But by their presentation, neither Halloran nor Banks offered any clues as to why they might want to speak with a university librarian.
Even in her heeled boots Banks didn’t reach shoulder-height on Halloran. She did, however, have the deportment to make up for it. Tight-postured and stern-jawed with her dark hair pulled into a businesslike twist, Banks had probably had to prove herself as hardy as her male colleagues once too often, and wasn’t difficult to decode.
Halloran’s face, however, was not an easy read, perhaps because it was part-obscured by a dark beard trimmed close to the skin. Like his hair, the beard was speckled with grey. His blue eyes stared into Kitt’s and her stomach tightened. For some reason she couldn’t quite put her finger on, it was difficult to hold his gaze, so she lowered her eyes to examine the precise knot at the top of his dark grey tie, the crispness of the white shirt, and the strong, sharp lines of his suit.
Detective Inspector – that was how he had introduced himself. A senior officer.
That meant whatever he wanted to talk to Kitt about was probably more serious than he was letting on in front of the chorus line of library regulars.
‘Excuse me, officers,’ Michelle said, interrupting Kitt’s analysis of these two unwelcome visitors. ‘But I manage floors one to three here at the library, can you tell me what this is about?’
‘I’m afraid it’s a matter I can only speak with Ms Hartley about,’ said Halloran.
Michelle’s face wrinkled around the eyes, and she turned on Kitt. ‘You better not be in any trouble here,’ she said. ‘The odd complaint about your sarcasm is one thing, but if you’re in trouble with the police, that’s cause for dismissal, you know. It won’t matter . . .’
From Kitt’s point of view, Michelle disappeared then and her voice trailed off to nothing. Inspector Halloran had taken it upon himself to stand between Kitt and her aggressor. She could now only see the back of his broad figure. She could, however, imagine the look of bewilderment on Michelle’s face as she heard the inspector say: ‘That’s quite enough. We’re here to speak to Ms Hartley and nothing more. Now if you don’t mind, we need to go about our business.’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Michelle, her voice smaller than Kitt had ever heard it. For all her huffing and puffing, Michelle never quite knew what to do when people stood up to her, which Kitt was just about to have done herself before the inspector stepped in.
Halloran turned back to Kitt. ‘So, is there a quiet room somewhere, Ms Hartley?’
‘Er, yes, somewhere private,’ said Kitt, meeting Halloran’s eyes again for a moment. ‘Grace, you don’t mind just looking after the desk for me, do you?’
‘No, don’t mind at all,’ Grace said, her tone a touch too casual given the intrigue of the predicament. Kitt was well-versed in the curious nature of her assistant. The second Michelle was out of sight she’d spend at least some of her time at the desk strategizing methods of getting close enough to the second-floor office to overhear what her boss and the police were talking about.
‘Told you, didn’t I?’ said Ruby, with a sly grin on her lips. ‘Ruby got it right this time. Saw it all coming.’
‘Yes,’ Kitt said, while Banks, who still hadn’t opened her mouth, raised an eyebrow at the old lady. ‘You predicted a visit from the police a whole thirty seconds ahead of time, a stunning demonstration of your prophetic abilities. There’s absolutely no way you could’ve heard them asking for me at reception on their way in, is there?’
Dipping her head, Ruby started fiddling with the toggles on her raincoat. ‘No . . .’
Kitt gave Ruby a grudging smile. As she did so, she sensed Halloran staring at her. He really was rather intense, but, Kitt reasoned, that was probably a CV-essential for a detective inspector. ‘Follow me, please,’ she said to the officers.
‘One of your mature students?’ Halloran asked, speeding up his own step to keep in time with the librarian, who only knew how to stand still or stride with purpose. There was no in-between.
Kitt glanced at the inspector out of the corner of her eye. So he really wasn’t going to give her any clue as to why he was here until they were locked away in a private room together? That was an incentive to quicken her pace if ever there was one.
‘Ruby? No,’ Kitt said, and, despite the potential seriousness of a police visit, let out an unexpected chuckle, a sure sign her hangover was lifting. Smashing news considering one needed a clear head to talk to the police about a ‘sensitive situation’. ‘The university is an open campus. Ruby’s our unofficial psychic-in-residence.’
‘Ruby? Not Ruby Barnett?’ asked Halloran.
‘Er, yes. I think that is her surname,’ Kitt said.
‘Ms Barnett has rung the station with predictions about missing persons cases a couple of times,’ Halloran explained.
‘I hope she hasn’t caused any trouble,’ said Kitt, resting a hand on the pewter handle of the office door. ‘She does get pretty over-excited when she thinks she’s onto something. If I’d known she might waste police time with her predictions, I’d have been firmer . . .’
‘You always get a series of calls on missing persons cases. People having a “feeling” about this or that. Some of them even pan out as viable leads,’ Halloran said, and then lowered his eyes to the ground. They seemed, all of a sudden, to be weighed down by a single thought too heavy to speak out loud.
‘What about Ruby’s suggestions?’ Kitt asked.
Halloran looked back up, examining Kitt’s face. ‘Sorry, I can’t discuss individual cases in detail, Ms Hartley.’
‘You terrible tease,’ Kitt said, raising an eyebrow at Banks in an attempt to include her in the moment, but the officer’s face registered no expression at all. There was something bothersome about the fact that Banks had remained so reticent. It was another clue, besides the seniority of Halloran, that whatever business brought the pair here was serious.
Clearing her throat, Kitt pushed open the door to the second-floor office and gestured to Banks, who strode in without a word.
Kitt looked again at Halloran, who stood opposite her in the doorway. ‘I could have handled my boss back there myself, you know, you didn’t need to step in,’ she said, already unsure why she’d bothered making such a point of it.
‘I’ve no doubt, but time is against us, and I thought the authority of the badge might offer a swifter resolution.’
The pair stared at each other.
‘Ahem.’ Banks cleared her throat, breaking the silence and prompting Kitt to wave Halloran into what was without question the most higgledy-piggledy office in the Vale of York University Library.
Possibly in the entire city.
It wasn’t the fault of the staff on that floor, the room was just an odd shape in comparison to those built on the other storeys, as though the builders had made some discrepancies in their measurements and tried to cover them up by creating an office with the most unusual combination of nooks and alcoves Kitt had ever seen. Still, at least it smelled homely, thanks to the almost constant brewing of fragrant fruit teas.
‘Do take a seat,’ Kitt said, pointing towards two shabby-looking floral armchairs. ‘Can I offer you a drink?’
‘No, thank you, Ms Hartley,’ said the inspector. ‘As I mentioned, time is not on our side, and I think it’s you who should take a seat. What we have to say might be hard to hear.’
Kitt sank slowly into the nearest armchair. A silence filled the room, so thick that Kitt found it difficult to breathe, and the strange turn this Monday morning had taken hit her hard. There was no distracting chitchat about aspiring elderly psychics now. Halloran closed the door after himself. She was trapped, alone, in a room with two police officers, with no idea what they were about to say.
‘Given the urgency of the issue, I’m going to cut to the chase,’ said Halloran while Banks took a notebook and pen out of her pocket. She stood there in silence, poised to write.
‘Understood,’ Kitt said, wishing that whatever it was, the inspector would just be out with it.
Halloran stared at Kitt. Something tightened in her chest as he did so. He went to open his mouth, then closed it again.
‘Now this . . . this is a very serious business, and we’ll expect your full cooperation without question throughout.’
‘All right,’ Kitt said, trying not to let her body visibly sag at the anticlimax. The inspector’s version of cutting to the chase differed wildly from her own.
‘Can you tell us how you know Owen Hall?’ asked Halloran.
Kitt lowered her brow. ‘Evie’s ex-boyfriend?’
He was the reason the police were knocking on Kitt’s door?
‘So you know him?’ Halloran pushed.
‘I . . . well, Evie’s the best friend I have,’ Kitt said, wondering what Owen could have done to make the police take an interest in him. ‘But I don’t know Owen very well as a person, if that’s what you’re asking.’
‘They were together some time, from what we understand,’ said Halloran.
‘Almost two years,’ Kitt said with a grimace. Two years of watching Evie being underappreciated hadn’t been Kitt’s idea of fun.
‘And in that time, you didn’t get to know him well?’ Halloran asked.
‘When Owen and Evie were together he’d scuttle upstairs to his Xbox within about five minutes if I ever paid them a visit,’ Kitt explained. ‘I only spoke to him when we were out with a bigger crowd, and even then we didn’t have a lot to talk about. Think we once even resorted to talking about the curtains at the restaurant we were eating at.’
‘But Evie must have spoken to you about him, if you’re her friend?’ said Halloran.
‘It is possible to get her onto other subjects,’ said Kitt. ‘But not for long, especially since their break-up.’
‘And what can you tell us about that break-up?’ Halloran asked. Banks, who had been taking notes throughout this conversation, paused at this question and eyed
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