Murder by the Book

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Book: Murder by the Book by Eric Brown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Eric Brown
write a word.’
    Lassiter looked up from his drink. ‘I know, I know. It’s irrational. But … but nevertheless I feel … guilty is the only word for it. Poor old Max.’
    â€˜When did you last see him?’
    Lassiter thought about that. ‘A month ago at a publishing do at the Douglas and Dearing offices. He seemed fine, for someone knocking on seventy-five.’
    â€˜Not at all depressed?’
    â€˜Not at all. As bright as a button, extolling the virtues of some young new writer whose first novel they’d just acquired. So when I heard about … Well, it knocked me sideways.’ He smiled, sadly. ‘I did the obit as a tribute. Hell, I put more work into it than I did my last novel – and I know, that isn’t saying much.’
    Langham smiled. ‘Would you like another drink?’
    Lassiter looked at his watch. ‘Christ, it’s almost five. Better not, old man. Wifey’ll be wondering where the hell I am. I’m like this.’ He mimed thumbing a drawing pin into the tabletop.
    â€˜How is Caroline these days?’
    Lassiter winked. ‘I complain, but I shouldn’t. She keeps my feet on the ground, keeps my alcohol consumption under control, damn her. Bless her. I’d better be on my way. Lovely seeing you, Donald. And I’ll be in touch about the collab, OK?’
    â€˜I’ll look forward to that.’
    â€˜Oh – you’re going to the Crime Club dinner next week, I assume?’
    â€˜Forgotten all about it,’ Langham said. ‘But yes, I haven’t missed one for years. I’ll be there.’
    Lassiter saluted, climbed unsteadily to his feet and wended his way through the crowd towards the exit.
    Langham remained at the table, half a glass of Guinness before him. He’d finish his drink, then find a phone box and ring Charles to see if the blackmailer had written with his next demand.
    Five minutes later he drained his glass and pushed through the crowd, climbing the steps into the fresh air like some troglodyte creature emerging from hibernation. He had the typical light-headedness, and the odd sense of being removed from reality, common after an afternoon session.
    He hurried across Leicester Square, found a phone box and got through to the agency. Seconds later Maria answered. ‘Donald, where have you been all day? I’ve been phoning your flat again and again.’
    â€˜Something’s happened?’
    â€˜This morning another letter arrived. This time he wants even more money.’
    Langham swore. ‘How’s Charles taking it?’
    There was a hesitation at the other end of the line. ‘Badly, I’m afraid. Please, could you possibly come over? He’s been asking for you.’
    â€˜I’m on my way.’
    â€˜Thank you so much, Donald.’
    As he stepped from the phone box and made his way across the square to where his car was parked, he tried to see a way out of this for Charles. The fact was that his agent was in a double bind: he couldn’t go to the police for fear of prosecution and a prison sentence – and if he didn’t accede to the extortionate demands of the blackmailer, then the result would be the same. Charles was not short of the odd thousand or two, he suspected, but his resources were finite.
    He eased his Austin into the busy flow of traffic going north on Charing Cross Road, then turned along Oxford Street and headed west. The traffic was light today, and in due course he pulled into a parking space across the road from the agency.
    The door to the street was unlocked, but when he reached the door to the outer office he found it barred. He knocked, and seconds later Maria let him in. She had a strand of jet-black hair nervously nipped into the corner of her mouth, and only when he stared did she remember herself and remove it, self-consciously.
    â€˜I closed the office just after the letter arrived,’ she explained. ‘Charles

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