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  • Published: 12 November 2024
  • ISBN: 9781529159707
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $22.99

Holmes, Margaret and Poe

Extract

1

Last year

The vacant industrial space that Realtor Gretchen Wik was trying to unload was located in a recently gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood called Bushwick. The area was becoming trendier by the month, but this particular building was cold and dead—and apparently unsellable.

Gretchen had been sitting at her sales table on the first floor since noon, tapping her nails while she stared out through a grime-coated window. In five hours, she had not been visited by a single prospect.

The property consisted of nine thousand square feet on two levels. But it was rundown and needed a lot of work. At this point, Gretchen felt like the worn wood floors and flaking brick walls were mocking her. She checked her watch. In exactly two minutes, her open house would officially be a bust.

Then she heard the front door open.

“Hello?” A voice from the entry hall. Gretchen’s pulse perked up. She pushed back her chair and walked briskly toward the door, her three-inch heels clicking on the hardwood. She rounded the corner to the entryway.

“It’s you!” said a tall light-skinned Black man in a camel overcoat. For a second, Gretchen was thrown. Then the man pointed at the folding sign in the foyer, the one with Gretchen’s face plastered on it.

“Right. Yes,” said Gretchen, turning on her best smile. “Positive ID.” She held out her hand. “Gretchen Wik, Lexington Realty.”

“Brendan,” said the visitor, “Holmes.” He had large brown eyes and a neatly shaved head. Gretchen did her routine two-second overview. Coat: expensive, well tailored. Shoes: Alexander McQueen. This guy might be a lookie-loo, but at least he didn’t seem like a total waste of time. And right now, he was the only game in town.

“Welcome to your future,” said Gretchen. She waved her arm toward the open space. Then she heard the door opening again.

“Sorry, have I missed it?” Another male voice.

This time it was a fit, compact man with wavy, dark hair and the kind of thin moustache that can look either silly or sexy, depending on the owner. On him, Gretchen thought it worked – kind of brooding and rakish at the same time. Most important, he was another prospect. The day was looking up.

“You’re in luck,” she said. “Right under the wire.”

“I’m Auguste. Auguste Poe.” Soft voice, with a solemn tone. And the slightest wisp of liquor on his breath.

“I’m Gretchen,” said the agent. She paused for a second as the names registered. Wait. First somebody named Holmes, and now Poe? What were the odds? Or was this some kind of put-on?         Before Gretchen could ask any questions, both men walked ahead of her into the main space. She caught up and launched into her spiel – the same one she’d been practicing at her lonely table all morning.

“Gentlemen, you’re looking at the very best bargain in Bushwick. Late nineteenth century construction, slate roof, terra cotta details, original skylights . . .”

“Pardon me? Anybody home?” The door again. A female voice this time, with a charming British accent.

Gretchen switched on her greeting smile again, getting even more excited. Two minutes ago, she had zero prospects.

Now, suddenly, she had three.

2

“Am I too late?” the woman asked.

“Not at all,” said the Realtor. “I’m Gretchen.”

“I’m Margaret Marple.”

Hold on, thought Gretchen. HolmesPoe. And now Marple?

She registered a quick impression of the new arrival: Attractive, but not flashy. Minimal makeup. Tweed skirt with an inexpensive top. The accent was refined. The look was practical.

“I have to ask,” said Gretchen. “Your names . . .”

“Tell me something,” said Holmes, ignoring the impending question. He was picking a piece of loose mortar from a brick wall. “Why is it still on the market?”

Gretchen cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, what?” Never mind the names. She had some selling to do.

“Your price per square foot dropped from six forty-five to five ninety in two weeks,” said Holmes. “So I’m just wondering . . .” He stopped mid- sentence and wrinkled his nose. “What is that smell?”

Gretchen realized that she was now playing defense. “Well, the building used to be a bakery,” she said. “Maybe it’s . . . ?”

“No,” Holmes said firmly, moving toward the other side of the room. “This is recent – and quite caustic.”

When he reached the large factory window on one wall of the space, he pushed the bottom half open and leaned out. “There was a tattoo parlor next door,” he said. It was a statement, not a question. Poe and Marple walked over to join Holmes at the window.

Gretchen was familiar with the view, and it wasn’t great. Her prospects were looking at the neighboring building, a one-story wreck with a corrugated door sealing the front. Plastic bins and trash littered a small paved area at the rear.

“I can check the property records,” said Gretchen, trying to glide past the unsavory subject. “I know it’s unoccupied at the moment.”

“PAHs,” said Holmes.

“Pardon?” said Gretchen.

“Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Used in black inks. They have a bit of a car-tire taint.”

“Funny,” said Gretchen. “I don’t smell a thing.”

“I’m hyperosmic,” said Holmes. “Blessing and a curse.”

Gretchen realized that she was quickly losing control of the tour. “Sorry, I don’t—”

“Unnaturally acute sense of smell,” said Holmes. “A genetic fluke.”

“Maybe we should check out the second floor?” Gretchen hinted, pointing toward a rusted metal staircase.

Poe gestured graciously. “Ladies first.” Gretchen took the lead, praying that the corroded treads would support the weight of four people. The second floor was as wide-open and empty as the first, except for a scattering of abandoned office furniture. “Take your time,” said Gretchen. “Any questions, just ask.”

As Marple ran a finger across a dusty bookshelf, Holmes dipped to one knee and scratched a floor plank with his fingernail. “Low-grade pine,” he mumbled. He pulled a small metal ball from his pocket, placed it on the floor, and watched it roll lazily toward the wall. “Two-point-five-centimeter slope,” he added with a frown.

Gretchen was trying to decide which of the three she should focus on. Holmes was clearly a fastidious nitpicker, maybe even obsessive. Marple seemed quiet and thoughtful. Poe was harder to read. Gretchen studied his face as he pulled open the top drawer of a creaking metal office file and peeked in. He hadn’t smiled once since he arrived, but there was something darkly magnetic about him.

“Just so I’m clear,” Gretchen asked, realizing her three prospects might be shopping together, “are all of you . . . ?”

“My God!” Poe exclaimed. “Murder!”

Gretchen froze as Poe pulled a yellowed newspaper clipping out of the file. His expression turned even more dour. “Someone was killed here,” he said.

“What?” said Holmes, suddenly energized.

“Really?” said Marple.

Poe waved the clipping. “Take a look.”

He smoothed the scrap of newsprint on top of the file. Gretchen’s gut was churning. The seller had warned her about this grim historical factoid. Dammit! She should have checked the drawers before the showing.

Marple ran her finger down the article and turned to Gretchen. “So it’s true?”

Gretchen cleared her throat. “I’d heard rumors,” she said carefully, “but—”

“Not a rumor,” snapped Holmes. “It’s right here in black and white.”

Gretchen stepped closer and looked over Poe’s shoulder. The paper was brittle, but the type was clear. DEATH IN A BAKERY, the headline read. And underneath, “Young Girl Slain Before Dawn.” The one-column story was accompanied by a photograph of a building.

The building they were in.

“Her throat was slit,” said Poe. “On the floor right below us. In 1954. She was just nineteen.”

Marple winced. “That poor child.”

Gretchen pictured her commission evaporating before her eyes. She did a quick mental calculation, ready to cut the price on the spot. Who the hell would pay almost six hundred dollars per square foot for a murder site?

Before she could float a new number, all three of her prospects turned and spoke at once.

We’ll take it!”


Holmes, Margaret and Poe James Patterson

A compulsive and entertaining contemporary mystery featuring a team of unique private investigators - perfect for fans of Richard Osman and Knives Out.

Buy now
Buy now

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