1955. When Mirabelle Bevan is rescued from a fire at her home on the Brighton seafront she’s lucky to escape unharmed – but the blaze takes the life of her neighbour, Dougie Beaumont, a dashing and successful racing driver living in the flat above. It soon becomes clear that this was arson, raising questions about the young man’s death that Mirabelle can’t resist investigating further. With her curiosity piqued and on the trail of a potential killer she finds herself taking on the mysterious world of Fleet Street with its long lunches and dodgy deals as well as the glamorous motor racing world at Goodwood.
It gradually becomes clear to Mirabelle that Dougie Beaumont’s life was not as above-board as it first seemed and that this talented man had many secrets, hidden when he was alive by his international lifestyle where he was constantly on the move. Then, when a second shocking murder takes place, Mirabelle’s pursuit is frustrated first by Dougie’s well-connected and suspicious family and then by the official investigation – led by her would-be lover Superintendent McGregor. With the help of her colleague at McGuigan & McGuigan Debt Recovery, Vesta, and some of her ex-intelligence service connections, Mirabelle discovers the dark secrets of the glamorous racing driver have ramifications far beyond the English coastline.
Today I am absolutely thrilled to share with you first chapter of „Operation Goodwood” – enjoy!
The path that leads on is lighted by one fire
Five months later
Brighton, 3.25 a.m., Sunday 25 September, 1955
Mirabelle awoke coughing and in confusion. The room was full of thick smoke. Panicked, she scrambled out of bed and opened the window to let in some fresh air. The smoke streamed out, funnelled through the void at the bottom of the frame. Her eyes stinging, she wasn’t convinced that opening the window had helped. She couldn’t even see as far as the pavement, never mind the seascape beyond. It took a moment to take in the seriousness of the situation. A fire. Here. At home. She lingered for a moment, woozy, before her training kicked in. Fires in the night had been common during the Blitz. She pulled a blanket off the mattress, flung the glass of water from her bedside over one corner of the material and then with her shoulders covered and the damp part of the blanket over her mouth, she dropped on to all fours and, wheezing, crawled into the living room. Immediately she toppled a pile of newspapers that was stacked by the sofa and blindly clambered over the detritus in the direction of the hallway. Her eyes were streaming now but she was afraid to close them and she knew rubbing would only make it worse. There was no sign of live flames here, not in the bedroom – not anywhere. She wondered momentarily where the blaze had started. This puzzle stopped her, as if she was frozen by indecision. She considered saving something – grabbing some of her possessions, but she couldn’t think where to start. Then there was a loud bang as the front door crashed open and the vague silhouette of a fireman appeared on the threshold.
‘Here,’ she shouted. ‘I’m here!’
The man grabbed her firmly by the arms and slung her efficiently over his shoulder, before carrying her into the entrance hall and down the main stairs. As the open door above receded, Mirabelle strained to keep her eyes open. Through painful lids, she could just make out tiny tongues of flame licking the banister on the second floor.
Outside, she gasped for breath in the cold night air as the man laid her gently on the pavement and a medic rushed forwards with a blanket. Her cough was rapid as machine gun fire. Behind her, a team of firemen unrolled a hose along the Lawns and she could just make out residents from further along the terrace congregated on the other side of the street in a dim huddle of pyjamas and velvet slippers. Someone was handing around mugs of tea.
‘Thank you,’ Mirabelle managed as she caught her breath. Her eyes were stinging.
‘We didn’t realise you were inside,’ the fireman said. ‘Thank God you opened that window. Do you know if there’s anyone else in the building?’
‘Mr Evans downstairs mostly stays in London – he works there. I don’t know if he’s in,’ Mirabelle spluttered. ‘And above, the flat was sold earlier this year. I’ve never seen anyone go in or out.’
The medic’s and the fireman’s eyes met as she began to breathe more easily. She lay back, the cold night air soothing her dry, gritty lids like a balm. Turning on her side, the blanket felt scratchy. She could just make out the shape of a body on a stretcher further along the pavement. Another medic was bent over it.
‘Who’s that?’ she asked, propping herself up. Perhaps Evans had been in after all.
‘That’s the fellow from upstairs, miss. You sure you don’t know his name?’
Mirabelle shook her head. ‘I didn’t know there was anyone up there. How awful.’
Mirabelle’s rescuer turned away as the men flocked round the engine to help jet a stream of water across the Lawns. He fell in as they moved into position to douse the flames. To the side, the other medic stood back from the man’s body. He shook his head. Mirabelle squinted to make out the corpse on the stretcher in the amber streetlight. His head was turned towards her. The eyes were glazed and she could just make out a shadow – a wide red welt around his neck. To one side the medic retrieved a piece of rope.
‘The police will want that, I expect,’ he said.
‘Did he hang himself?’ Mirabelle asked, as she tried to sit up further.
‘Now, now, miss,’ the man fussed. ‘There’s no point in getting worked up.’
He nodded at his friend to lay a sheet over the body. Mirabelle paused. It was odd but she could swear she had seen the man somewhere. Her bare feet were getting cold now and she tucked them under the thick fabric, drawing the blanket around her. Then she gave an involuntary shudder.
‘Don’t trouble yourself,’ the medic continued. ‘There’s nothing anyone could’ve done.’
‘But I didn’t even know he was there.’
‘People these days don’t always know their neighbours, miss. It’s not like before the war.’
‘Please,’ she insisted. ‘Let me see him again.’
The medic hesitated, then nodded at the other man who removed the sheet from the dead man’s face. Then it came to her. It was the racing driver – the young man with the strong jaw. With the mother.
‘I do know him,’ she said. ‘Well, I’ve seen him. He’s a driver. Beaumont? Is that the name?’
‘Blow me, she’s right. It’s Dougie Beaumont,’ the medic said. ‘That’s a tragedy.’
‘Why would he kill himself?’ Mirabelle kept her eyes steady on the welt round Dougie Beaumont’s neck. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Now, now, miss. No point in getting exercised. You’ve identified the poor fellow. That’s a help.’
Two black Marias pulled up behind the fire engine and three uniformed policemen emerged to control the crowd that was forming along the pavement. Then Superintendent McGregor appeared beside Mirabelle. He crouched down and took her hand. She felt curiously detached from what was going on but she was glad to see a familiar face.
‘Are you all right? I came as soon as I heard. Can I take you to hospital?’ McGregor’s concern was evident.
The medic smiled indulgently. ‘She’s fine, sir. Though we’ll keep an eye on her for another few minutes. You were lucky, miss.’
‘The fire was upstairs, Alan,’ Mirabelle found herself explaining with some urgency, ‘and the poor man is dead. It’s Dougie Beaumont – do you remember? He won the first race when we went to Goodwood at Easter? It looks like he hanged himself.’
‘You leave that to me.’ McGregor squeezed her fingers gently and cast a glance over his shoulder at the dead man. ‘The boys will take care of it. Right now, you’ve had a shock and it seems you’re out of digs. Why don’t you come and stay at my place till we get all this sorted out?’
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