Claire McNab

Dead Certain

The fifth book in the Carol Ashton series, 1992

For my dear friend Sue


To: Katherine V. Forrest

W. Somerset Maugham said: “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

I know one vital rule-have a great editor. I have.

Thanks to:

Robin-for hotels; Barbara-for opera.


The young Duty Manager looked at the DO NOT DISTURB sign, cleared his throat, straightened his tie. He glanced at the substantial figure of the Housekeeping Supervisor, who stopped chewing her gum long enough to say, “Go for it.”

“I can hear something. Someone talking.”

“The television’s on.”

He paused a moment longer, then knocked resolutely. “Mr. Raeburn? This is the Duty Manager…”

The Housekeeping Supervisor sighed. “Hasn’t answered any of my room attendants. Not going to answer you.”

“Mr. Raeburn…?”

The television blared as he opened the door to a wall of cold air. He walked down the short entrance hall and stopped. “Jesus.”

Collis Raeburn lay sprawled on the bed, his head turned away as though hiding his face. One arm hung over the edge so that his hand touched the plush beige carpet near an overturned tumbler and a scatter of pills. There was a pungent stink of whiskey.

Reluctantly, the Duty Manager touched his shoulder, then his face. “Jesus,” he said again.

The Housekeeping Supervisor killed the television.

In the silence her matter-of-fact voice was too loud. “Offed himself.” When the young man beside her didn’t respond, she added, “Get the Manager and don’t touch anything.”

“Do you know who this is? Collis Raeburn, the opera singer.”

The Housekeeping Supervisor was already walking towards the door. “Yeah? Whoever he is, he’s still just as dead.”


Lounging in the doorway of the office kitchen, Detective Sergeant Mark Bourke ran a hand over his freshly close-cropped brown hair. “It’ll be quite a big wedding, actually. We both wanted something quiet, but Pat’s got all these relatives…”

“It’s not a good sign, lots of relatives,” said Constable Anne Newsome dolefully as she spooned instant coffee into a mug.

Detective Inspector Carol Ashton, amused at the young constable’s mockingly lugubrious tone, said,

“Anne could be right, Mark. Think of all those relations you’re about to suddenly acquire, each asking for a traffic ticket to be fixed.”

“I’ll cope.”

Smiling affectionately at his familiar, blunt-featured face, she was sure that he would. Mark Bourke met life with an equanimity firmly based upon a dry sense of humor and an aptitude for the sheer grind that made up so much of police work. Carol had worked with him on many cases, and by now they shared a respect and affection for each other that was never verbalized, but comfortingly, was always there.

“The wedding will be outside,” he was saying. “Not a church. We’re having a marriage celebrant. Hope the weather’s okay-spring can be a bit dicey.”

“Making up your own vows?”

Mark looked astonished at the constable’s question. “Own vows? Pat never mentioned-”

“You can make up the whole thing. The only legal bit is when you sign your life away.”

Carol thought of her own large, ostentatious society wedding to barrister Justin Hart at the very exclusive St. Mark’s at Darling Point, and the civilized, quiet divorce some years later. “Thought you’d go for a formal wedding, Mark.”

“I would have, Carol, believe me. You know I like everything set out, so I know where I am. But Pat wanted it at Balmoral Beach.”

Anne chuckled. “On the sand, or ankle-deep in the water near the shark net?”

Carol looked at her reflectively as Mark described how the ceremony would be in the rotunda-a restored Victorian bandstand that sat fetchingly in a park near the creamy sand.

Top of her class at the Academy, ebullient, intelligent, Anne had been part of the team for over six months, and she had fitted in effortlessly. She volunteered her opinion, didn’t seem awed by the other detectives, yet never presumed a status she didn’t hold. Carol’s initial antagonism was based, she had finally realized, on her chagrin that the cozy professional relationship she had enjoyed with Mark Bourke now had to accommodate an ambitious female officer. Anne Newsome’s professionalism, however, had finally won Carol’s reluctant approval, and then her support.

“Inspector Ashton?”

Carol turned to the gray-suited, sleek man who had uttered her name with soft emphasis. “Yes?”

He extended a hand. “I’m Simon Sykes, from the Commissioner’s office. We haven’t met before, Inspector, but I’ve admired your work for some time.”

Public relations, thought Carol as they shook hands briefly.

“Is there somewhere we could talk?

Carol indicated her office. She closed the door before he could suggest it, then gestured him to a chair. He was neat, alert and deferential. Instinctively, Carol disliked and mistrusted him, but she smiled and said, “Yes, Mr. Sykes?”

Simon-please. I’m with the Commissioner’s press unit.”

Carol nodded. And you can call me Inspector Ashton. She said, “You’ve just joined

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