April 1 is a Monday this year, therefore it’s time for the second edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for exactly one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.
And since Easter is later this month, what story could be more fitting than Egg Hunt, an Easter mystery from my Helen Shepherd Mysteries series? This one is technically a novelette, since it’s just over the 7500 word mark.
So follow Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team as they tackle the mysterious case of a priceless Fabergé egg that has gone missing from the London home of a Russian oligarch.
Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd manoeuvred her car into a parking space in a quiet side street in Belgravia, the dark green Rover looking distinctly shabby among all the BMWs, Mercedeses and Porsches parked along the curb. She even spotted a Bentley and — holy ghost, was that a Ferrari?
The street was peaceful, the blooming forsythias and Japanese cherries giving it a springtime flair. Number 34 was one of the familiar cream white stucco houses that lined the street. In many ways, the place looked like and probably had served as the set for Upstairs, Downstairs. However, instead of the English upper class and their army of servants, number 34 now served as the London residence of a Russian oligarch named Yevgeny Ivanov and his wife.
Police Constable Martin Jackson and another uniform were flanking the entrance, looking more like decorative security guards than police officers.
“Good morning, ma’am,” PC Jackson said, tipping his cap.
In his hand, there was a little box of what upon closer examination turned out to be chocolates. “Belgian chocolate Easter eggs,” he said by way of explanation, “Would you like one, ma’am?”
Now Helen actually had a bar of Marks & Spencer Swiss dark chocolate in her coat pocket to be enjoyed as an after-lunch snack later. Nonetheless, she’d never been one to pass up free chocolate, so she said, “Thank you, Constable. That’s very kind of you.”
PC Jackson handed Helen an egg of marbled dark and white chocolate. “Here you are, ma’am. Enjoy!”
Helen popped the egg into her mouth and indeed enjoyed it. Meanwhile, PC Jackson lifted the police tape for her. “Just go right through. DC Walker and the forensics people have already started.”
Inside, the house looked even more like the set of Upstairs, Downstairs — the Upstairs part at any rate. The furniture was classic, the paintings tasteful, the flower arrangements artful, the carpets thick and elegant. Nothing was out of place, nothing was jarring, nothing was less than absolutely perfect. All in all, the place looked more like a photo spread from Ideal Home rather than a house that was actually inhabited by living breathing human beings.
Helen suppressed a shudder. This house gave her the creeps and not just because something appalling had happened here.
She found Detective Constable Kevin Walker and Scene of the Crime Officer Charlotte Wong at the back of the house in the living room. At any rate, Helen assumed it was supposed to be the living room, since the place looked more like a showroom than like any living room she’d ever been in.
At least there was neither a body nor blood. Helen supposed she should be glad about that.
“Morning, boss,” DC Walker greeted her, while Charlotte Wong continued dusting every available surface for fingerprints, disturbing the sanctified perfection of the room in the process.
“All right, Constable. What happened here?”
“See that?” DC Walker pointed at an upright glass case, one of several scattered around the room. “Until approximately an hour ago, that case used to contain a priceless Fabergé egg.”