by Trevor Hopkins

Tibbermore poured a very decent measure of the Scotch into a cut-glass tumbler and delivered it to the table at my elbow on a silver salver.

"Dinner will be served in fifteen minutes, sir," he intoned.

With that, he left me to my drink and to my thoughts. And my cigarettes. I could see that a cut-glass ashtray - part of the same set that included the glass and the decanter - had been positioned on the side table next to my whisky. I dug in my pockets for a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches, lit up and blew smoke at the ceiling. It helps me think.

When I first became aware of her, Lady Strowan Westwood was already a genuine celebrity: very famous and had been for a long time. When I was growing up, I remembered my grandfather, who was something of an amateur theatre critic in his spare time, saying that she had put on some of the most electrifying stage performances he had ever seen. The old boy had taken me along to see several performances while I was a child, which I remember nearly as clearly as Granddad’s enthusiasm before and afterwards.

After a long and successful career on the stage, and a similarly long and even more adventurous love-life, Strowan had met and married a minor member of the nobility. Not that ranks and titles mean a great deal in these Republican days, but his Lordship still retained a respectable fraction of his traditional inheritance and seemed to have enough nous to enhance rather than diminish it with his business dealings.

Strowan had effortlessly morphed into a society hostess, using her charms, and her friends and contacts in the theatre business, to build a wide social circle. The dinners and parties at their house - this house, I now realised - were the talk of the town and the subject of endless column-inches in the newspapers. To Grandpa's disgust, her theatre performances diminished to almost nothing, although she was seen as a patron of the arts - at least by those who would wish to get their hands on some of her husband's money.

By all accounts, it was a happy marriage. Their likenesses appeared, always together, in the newspapers and glossy magazines, on a frequent basis. Then his Lordship died, suddenly and with absolutely no suspicion of foul play. (I checked; I am a detective, after all.) Strowan had been heart-broken. She immersed herself in mourning and never re-emerged into society, disappearing from the reports in the newspapers and the lives of almost everybody.

The door to the library opened. It was Tibbermore back again.

"Dinner is served, sir," he said quietly, then added, "If I could ask you to extinguish your cigarette, please. Smoking no longer agrees with her Ladyship."

I took a last puff and stubbed it out in the ashtray. I swallowed the last drop of the excellent spirits, stood up and followed the old butler out of the library and into the dining room.

Part 4 Part 6