Inish Glas Island, Ireland
“There is a corpse in the guest bathtub.”
Darko Dunne stopped strumming his guitar mid-song and stared slack-jawed at his butler. Even Bran, his Irish setter, deigned to open one lazy eye. “Say that again, Peters.”
“A deceased individual is currently occupying one of the guest bathrooms.”
“Who’s dead? Is it one of the cleaning staff?”
“No, sir,” Peters intoned in his bland voice. “I’ve never set eyes on the person before.”
With unsteady hands, Darko placed the guitar back on its stand. The dosage of his new antianxiety medication was too high. Yeah, that had to be it. No way could a stranger turn up dead on a remote island. “Where’s the body?”
“In the bathroom of the first guesthouse.”
Darko bounded over to the large desk that occupied one corner of his home recording studio and retrieved his Browning semi-automatic pistol. The action was one borne of impulse. Seven years in the British army had trained him well.
At the sight of the weapon, the butler’s impassive expression faltered. “I’m hoping that won’t be necessary.”
“So am I,” Darko said grimly and shoved the gun into his back pocket. He was already striding toward the door. Bran, apparently sensing something exciting was about to happen, roused himself and raced after his master. They thundered up the winding metal staircase that led from the basement to the open living space of the ground floor.
“I’m assuming you’ve already called emergency services,” he called over his shoulder.
“I tried.” The butler huffed and puffed in his attempt to keep up with his employer’s rapid pace. “The landline is down again. Besides, the person is beyond saving. I didn’t think it would make any difference if I informed you first.”
When they reached the top of the stairs, Darko strode over the marble floor to the main entrance. “Do the others know yet?”
“I don’t know about Mr. Saunders, but Monsieur Desrochers was in the herb garden when I discovered the body.” Peters flushed. “I might have emitted a small screech.”
Well, well. Maybe Peters was human after all.
Without waiting for the butler to retrieve their winter coats from the cloakroom, he wrenched open the door and ran down the short flight of steps to the courtyard. “We’ll take the cart to speed us up.”
He slid behind the wheel of the small golf cart they used to transport supplies around the island. Bran leaped into the back, barking in excitement. A moment later, Peters clambered into the passenger seat, clutching both their coats.
Darko turned the key in the ignition and eased the vehicle into motion. “Is the corpse male or female? Young or old?”
“Male. Medium height. Heavy build. Forty-plus.”
Darko’s fingers tensed around the wheel. The butler’s monotone was getting on his nerves. “This isn’t my next tour schedule, Peters. A man is dead. How did he die? And how the hell did he end up in my bathtub?”
“My guess is strangulation. As for how he ended up in the tub—” the butler gave a one-shouldered shrug, “—your guess is as good as mine.”
Ice-cold prickles pierced the back of Darko’s neck and they weren’t caused by the bitter December wind. “I don’t suppose six months of living on an isolated island in the middle of the Celtic Sea has driven you to consuming magic mushrooms with your breakfast omelet?”
The butler stiffened in the passenger seat. “Certainly not. I abhor narcotics.”
He sighed. “I suspected as much. So we have an actual murder victim on the premises?”
“It would appear so.”
Darko swore under his breath. “For all we know, whoever killed the man might still be on the island.” Keeping one hand on the wheel, he used the other to slide his mobile phone from his pocket and punch in 999, the number for the Irish emergency services. A few seconds later, he tossed the phone onto the dashboard. “Still no signal.”
The butler cleared his throat.
Darko held up one palm. “Don’t say you told me so. I know I should have sorted out the phone problem. Alan’s been bitching about it for weeks.”
“Simply because you choose to isolate yourself from the world does not mean that Mr. Saunders wishes to be without Internet and mobile phone service.” Peters’s voice was bland, but Darko wasn’t fooled. “And in a situation like this—”
“I’ll get it sorted. I promise.”
A moment later, they pulled up outside the first guesthouse. Bran bounded out of the golf cart, ran to the door, and wagged his tail in anticipation. Darko leaned down and stroked his soft fur. “At least one of us is pleased at having his morning derailed by murder and mayhem.”
Peters keyed in the security code and halted in the half-open doorway. “Perhaps we can let the dog go ahead of us. In case anyone is lurking.”
He slid the pistol from his pocket. “I’m not putting my dog in danger. I’ll go first.”
When they entered the house, a prickle of unease slid down Darko’s spine, but a thorough search of the downstairs rooms revealed nothing out of place.
Peters hovered in the entrance, clutching Bran’s collar. He’d grabbed a vase from the hall table and was wielding it like a club.
“Jaysus. Don’t hit me with that thing, will you?” Darko jerked a thumb at the ceiling. “Which bathroom is the dead man in? The en suite or the main one?”
The butler’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “He’s in the main bathroom.”
“I’ll lead the way.” Upstairs, Darko conducted a search of all the rooms, eventually pausing in front of the closed door of the main bathroom.
Peters shifted his weight from one foot to the other but made no move to revisit the scene of the atrocity.
Pistol cocked, Darko swallowed hard and kicked open the door. Sure enough, the hot tub contained bubble bath, rose petals, and a corpse. The dead man’s arms sprawled over the edge of the tub, displaying a tattoo on his left bicep—the ace of spades with a skull in the center. On the edge of the tub stood two half-full champagne glasses and a bottle of bubbly in an ice bucket.
Bile surged up Darko’s throat, and his heart rate kicked up a notch. Were it not for the eerie stillness, the man in the tub might have appeared alive.
On reflex, he patted his shirt pocket and felt the reassuring bulge of his meds. He’d already slipped his fingers into the pocket to extract them when an odd detail arrested his attention. Perched on the bridge of the man’s nose was a pair of sunglasses. A pair of very familiar sunglasses…Darko leaned forward to get a closer look. “What the actual fuck?”
“Don’t touch anything, sir,” Peters said from the safety of the doorway. He held on to Bran’s collar to prevent the dog from entering the room. “The police will want to dust for fingerprints.”
Darko jerked back as if electrocuted. “Why is a dead man wearing my custom-made Gucci sunglasses?”
“I have no idea,” Peters said in the same tone he used when relaying the day’s menu. “Perhaps this is the moment to try the phones again.”
“Too bloody right.” Darko pulled his mobile from his pocket and tried the number for emergency services. No signal. “I’ll have to go to the mainland and fetch the police.”
Rapid footsteps sounded on the stairs. Darko whirled around, pistol at the ready.
Alan, his personal assistant and best friend, froze mid-step. “Jaysus, Darko. Put that thing away.”
“I guess you’ve heard about the body,” he said, lowering the weapon.
His friend’s kohl-rimmed eyes widened. “So it’s true? Jean-Baptiste said someone died in here. He was having a conniption in the kitchen. Said it’s totally put him off making French onion soup.”
Darko exhaled a groan. The chef in a sulk was tiresome at the best of times. And today definitely didn’t count as the best of times. “Where is he now?”
“Given that Peters and I have already violated the crime scene, you might as well come in and have a gawk. Get Jean-Baptiste up here, too. Perhaps one of you will recognize the fella.”
Alan regarded the door of the bathroom with the wariness of a hunter facing a rampaging lion. “All right. I’ll go and ask him.”
Two minutes later, an indignant Frenchman marched up the guesthouse stairs and met Darko and Peters on the landing. Jean-Baptiste rolled up the white sleeves of his apron to reveal muscular tattooed arms. “I not deal well with les cadavres, Mr. Darko. My soup, it is destroyed.”
Alan and Peters patted Jean-Baptiste on the back and murmured words of consolation.
“Jaysus, lads. All you can think of is soup? There’s a flipping dead body in there.” Darko pointed to the open bathroom door. “Surely one of you knows who he is.”
“I not associate with people who expire in tubs,” Jean-Baptiste said in a tone of utter disdain.
Alan turned an interesting shade of green. “I guess we’d better take a look.”
One by one, they trooped into the bathroom and gazed at their uninvited guest.
“Well?” Darko prompted. “Does anyone recognize him?”
Alan peered at the dead man’s face. “Is he wearing a pair of your sunglasses? The bloody cheek.”
“Bollinger?” Jean-Baptiste snorted and dismissed the dead man with a flick of his wrist. “He have bad taste in champagne.”
Darko gritted his teeth and forced himself to be patient. “Forget the sunglasses. Forget the champagne. Forget the fucking soup. Do any of you know who he is?”
The three men exchanged glances and shook their heads.
He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then focused on his staff. “I’ll take the boat to the mainland and collect my car at the harbor. There’s got to be a police station somewhere in Ballybeg.”
Alan twisted his wristbands, a sure sign he was distressed. “You can’t leave us on this godforsaken island with a corpse. What if the murderer is still here?”
“For heaven’s sake.” Darko eyed Jean-Baptiste’s bulky figure. “We won’t all fit in the Porsche.”
“We don’t need to all travel in the Porsche,” Alan said. “We’ll come with you on the boat and part ways on the pier.”
The chef jutted his chin and folded beefy arms across his chest. “I need to shop. I come with.”
Peters cleared his throat. “Perhaps I could take the opportunity of a trip to the mainland to visit a telecommunications shop.”
“That’s sorted.” Alan looked his boss straight in the eye. “We’ll all go to Ballybeg. We can bring Bran with us, and I’ll walk him on the beach.”
Darko slow blinked. Alan didn’t do pets, and Bran didn’t do Alan. His friend must be desperate to escape Inish Glas if he was volunteering to walk the dog. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “All right, lads. If you come with me to Ballybeg, make sure you’re back at the boat an hour after we dock. That should give me enough time to find the police station.”
“Let’s hope the Ballybeg police aren’t total eejits,” Alan said. “I won’t be able to sleep a wink tonight if they don’t catch the murderer.”
Yeah…somehow, Darko doubted the island would cease to be a crime scene before nightfall. So much for his peaceful island retreat.
From The Rock Star’s Secret Baby by Zara Keane, Copyright 2015