Does the celebrity lifestyle attract jealousy and revenge, or did he pay a hit man? You decide!
Powdery snow flew under his skis as Michael Marsh turned into a stop at the bottom of a beginners’ run. Not bad after a fortnight, especially as the first week had been spent on the nursery slopes. He looked back for Elspeth. Her bright ski suit was usually easy to spot, but there was no sign of her. Had they been right to dispense with the services of a private instructor?
A golden and copper flash swept around other skiers, and Elspeth arrived beside him laughing. ‘Michael, don’t you dare ask what happened.’
‘I don’t have to. You look like a tube of toothpaste that’s been squeezed too hard.’
He removed his goggles and stopped her mock fury with a kiss before he brushed off the snow. ‘Once more, or are you ready for a hot chocolate?’
Elspeth took off her helmet and goggles. ‘In one of the bars, or are you offering to make it?’
He winked. ‘I’ll do it, later.’
It was good to see Elspeth happy; she’d been depressed by her mother’s death. Christmas and Hogmanay at Kinloch Wildlife Reserve had been quiet, with only a few guests other than the family; Margaret Cameron had been loved. She’d lived to see James and Isla’s son christened Iain after his great-grandfather, and then given in to crippling arthritis and the loneliness of years without the husband she’d adored.
Elspeth jerked him back from Scottish mountains to the glittering sunlit slopes skirting the jagged peak of the Matterhorn. ‘Come on then. I don’t walk in these boots, I shuffle.’
‘Keep your skis on.’
It was what the instructor had suggested, but she was already removing them. Perhaps if he carried them, her helmet, goggles, and the knapsack she used to tote sunscreen and goodness knows what else, she could walk without slipping on ice, if she’d remembered to bring her boot spikes.
A woman wearing a multi-coloured ski suit, pink helmet and goggles, tapped his arm and held out a leather-bound autograph book with a pen attached. He signed, conscious of a crowd gathering. Drat it! He hadn’t replaced his goggles with dark glasses: so much for hot chocolate or anything else in the immediate future. Sure enough, women were scuffling in pockets for paper, and their menfolk were grinning; they didn’t intend him to escape. ‘Elspeth, I don’t suppose you have a pen?’
She emptied her knapsack onto the snow and waved a felt-tip. ‘See! I carry all sorts of useful things. The loan charge is a kiss for every signature.’
He tossed his gloves on top of her scattered belongings and started writing MM for the unruly queue, struggling to smile at his fans without laughing. Elspeth would be counting, and crowds invariably attracted more people.
Screams cut the clear air. The girl holding a piste map for him to sign looked over his arm, swayed, and collapsed at his feet. He half-bent to help her and glanced back. A familiar figure lay still against the stark white, the silver handle of a weapon protruding from a blood-stained patch on her chest.
‘Elspeth.’ Levering off his skis, breaking straps in his haste, he slid his fingers inside her collar: no pulse, and not a hint of breath on his icy palm. He tugged at the zip on her suit and a hand grasped his.
‘Warten Sie lieber, mein Herr – make – badder.’
Another voice. ‘Help is coming – not long. They’re prepared for accidents.’
This was no accident, but a doctor would revive her. They could work miracles; he knew they could. He’d shown no signs of life after a heart attack, and he was fitter than he’d been on a concert tour of Europe eighteen months ago.
Uniformed bodies pushed him aside. A policeman addressed him in perfect English, and he too recognised him. ‘Mr Marsh, this lady is your wife?’
‘My – my Elspeth.’
He persisted. ‘Your wife’s full name?’
I, Michael, take you, Elspeth. ‘Elspeth Marsh.’
‘The correct spelling, please.’
The paramedics had finished. Elspeth lay where she’d fallen with a sheet over her that covered her face. No hope, no chance to hold her ever again, and no goodbye. To hell with police formalities and witnesses’ sensibilities. He folded back the sheet, made the sign of the cross on her forehead, and kissed eyelids closed by a stranger’s hand. ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death –’
Those closest joined in, and the murmur of prayer gained strength. This was Europe, and the Catholic faith was strong: even the policeman remained silent until it was over.
‘Mr Marsh, I regret that she cannot be moved, and I must ask you to stay.’ The sympathetic voice spoke louder, commanding. ‘Ihr bleibt alle hier bis ihr die Erlaubnis habt zu gehen. All of you remain until you are given permission to leave.’
Official backup had arrived. He was forced to leave Elspeth, the area around her cordoned off, and more police surrounded the crowd, notebooks at the ready. He unzipped his ski suit and found his mobile. Fumbling, almost blinded by tears, he managed need u lis and dropped the phone.
A lady picked it up and read the message. ‘Lis is your daughter, Lisette Marsh, and you want her to come? Does she know where you are?’
He and Elspeth had decided to visit Zermatt and try skiing a couple of days into exploring Rome, where the winter sun had vanished making wearing dark glasses recognisable as a typical celebrity disguise. He shook his head; his fingers couldn’t find the tiny keys he needed. ‘Horn Anzeigen.’
‘I know it. Horn Anzeigen Aparthotel.’ She tapped busily. ‘The “Lisette” in your contacts, yes? Ah! No signal.’ She closed a hand over his. ‘When I am permitted to leave, I will find a good spot to send this, and leave your mobile with the concierge.’
A policeman prevented him from touching Elspeth’s belongings. Everything was bagged and labelled, even her felt tip. The loan charge is a kiss for every signature.
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