Original Sin, страница 1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Tasmina Perry
All rights reserved
Including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form
Eleven Books 2011
Originally published in Great Britain by Harper Collins publishers
In memory of my grandfather
About the Author
September 18 1964
Pill–popping starlet feared dead after wedding vanishing act
Friends of the Hollywood actress, Olivia Martin, who mysteriously disappeared after the Louisiana wedding of cosmetics mogul, Howard Asgill at the family’s Riverview Estate, now fear she might have taken her own life by means of a fatal late–night walk into the Mississippi River after consuming a cocktail of barbiturates. Martin was last seen leaving the $50,000 nuptials of Asgill and New Orleans socialite Meredith Carter just before midnight last Saturday. When Mr Asgill noticed her absence at the lavish brunch the next day, the newlyweds assumed that Olivia, known for her colourful love life, had left the celebrations with another guest.
But when she had not appeared forty–eight hours later, Martin’s sister Valerie filed a missing person’s report, and Louisiana police began their enquiries.
River of death
Friends of the After the Sunset actress began assuming the worst when Louisiana State Police found prescription drugs in the guest cottage where Miss Martin was staying on the Carter family estate. So far police have not trawled the Mississippi, which runs just one hundred feet past the guest cottage and is almost one mile wide at this point. If the theory of a death plunge is true, investigators fear the body of the actress might never be found.
Haunted by Hollywood rejection
Insiders say the twenty–seven–year–old redhead had been sliding into depression after her contract with MGM studios was cancelled in 1961 and a highly anticipated television career flopped. However, last year Martin signed a five–figure contract to be the face of Asgill Long–last Lipstick. She had proved so successful for the brand that the company had her lips insured for $1 million. But her modelling success was no substitute for her acting career, and a slide into drink and prescription–drug addiction was well known to those around her.
Dark cloud over wedding
Although the search for Miss Martin continues, her disappearance has cast a dark cloud over one of the most stellar society events of the season. Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck and Anita Ekberg were just some of the guests at the Asgill wedding. The CEO of Asgill Cosmetics was the butcher’s son from Brooklyn who turned a home–brewed face cream in a multimillion–dollar cosmetics company. Meredith and Howard Asgill, currently on honeymoon in Capri, Italy, issued a statement yesterday expressing their concern. ‘Olivia is a dear friend and wonderful ambassador for Asgill Cosmetics. We pray for her swift and safe return home.’
Present day, London
‘Wake up. I’ve got something for you.’
Tess Garrett forced her eyes open and peered over the top of her duvet to see her flatmate Jemma Davies sitting on the bed.
‘You gave me a fright. What time is it?’ sighed Tess, casting her glance to the bedside clock next to her. 5.30 a.m.! As deputy editor on one of the UK’s Sunday tabloids she was used to early starts, but the birds weren’t even singing yet. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw that her friend was dressed head to toe in black.
‘What are you wearing?’ asked Tess warily. ‘You look like a cat burglar.’
‘Come on, shake a leg,’ said Jemma, bouncing on the mattress impatiently, ‘this is important!’
‘So is my sleep,’ mumbled Tess, pulling the covers back over her head.
Seeing that Tess was going to take some shifting, Jemma stood up again.
‘Okay, I’ll go and make some tea. Then we can talk. Five minutes, okay?’
As soon as Jemma had left the bedroom, Tess heard a muffled groan coming from under the pillow next to her.
‘You know I can’t hear you through six inches of goose down,’ said Tess.
A hand flung back the pillow and the handsome face of her boyfriend Dom Barton popped up, squinting into the light.
‘I said, “Remind me when Jemma said she was moving out?”’
‘Shhh! Keep your voice down,’ said Tess, peering through the open bedroom door where she could see Jemma filling the kettle in the galley kitchen across the hall. ‘Cut her a bit of slack, eh? She’s been through a rough time.’
‘She finished with Chris three months ago, Tess,’ hissed Dom, leaning back on his elbows. ‘Plus, the flat is a tip, and how can I use the study to write my book when all of Jemma’s belongings are in it?’
Tess glanced around and had to admit that things were a tight squeeze in their two–bedroomed Battersea flat, but Jemma was her best friend’s sister, she had known her since school; and besides, Jemma’s line of work sometimes came in handy.
‘Honey, you are never going to write that novel, with or without anyone living in our spare room. You’ve been talking about it
Dom was the deputy travel editor of the broadsheet, the Sunday Chronicle, which meant he was on some exotic press trip at least once a month. Groaning, he slid out of bed, scratching his tousled hair. Tess rubbed her eyes as she watched his gym–honed bum cheeks vanish into their en–suite bathroom. Jemma returned with two mugs of tea and thrust one towards Tess.
‘So, what’s worth a five–thirty summit meeting?’ Tess smiled.
Jemma took a slurp of tea. ‘I’ve been to a Venus party,’ she said with a grin.
Tess’s eyes opened wide and she sat cross–legged on the bed, feeling suddenly energized. Jemma was a paparazzo photographer who usually sold her work into one of the big picture agencies, but sometimes Tess asked her to work on solo projects for her. Tess had been hearing rumours of organized ‘membership only’ sex parties in London for years but, despite the best efforts of Fleet Street’s finest, no one had ever been able to track them down. She had begun to suspect they were one of those wishful–thinking urban myths, like Diana’s love child, but, around three months ago, Jemma had got the scent of a new underground scene called ‘Venus parties’ and the whisper was that they took decadence to a whole new level. Understandably, access to them was near impossible – entry was via personal recommendation and the vetting process rigorous – but the guest list was said to be dynamite: senior politicians, Hollywood stars and players, high–ranking police, Premiership footballers – and that was just for starters. Tess had put Jemma on a retainer to work on tracking them down.
‘There was a Venus party last night at a big house in Wycombe Square out in St. John’s Wood,’ said Jemma excitedly. ‘I got in.’
‘That’s fantastic,’ said Tess, barely able to hide her excitement. ‘How on earth did you get past the checks?’
Jemma glanced behind her, making sure that Dom was still the shower. Tess understood; Dom might have been her boyfriend, but he still worked for a rival publication.
‘I was a security guard,’ she whispered.
Tess laughed. ‘You? A bouncer?’
Although she was dressed completely in black, the pocket–sized busty blonde looked more like a glamour model than a security guard.
‘Don’t laugh,’ said Jemma huffily. ‘These parties need women at the door. Ironically they’re to frisk the female guests to make sure nobody’s taking in cameras. It took me two months to get the gig. I had to moonlight on the door of a club in Chelsea first.’
‘Was it worth it?’
Jemma smiled. ‘Oh yes.’
Tess was practically salivating; this would be an excellent story at any time, but Jemma’s timing was perfect. All week she had been acting editor of the Sunday Globe. Her boss Andy Davidson was on holiday and she had picked up the reins. This could be her big chance to make her mark.
‘So, come on,’ she said impatiently, ‘who was there?’
Jemma rattled off a list of household names. ‘There were a few Hollywood names as well. I had the misfortunate of seeing that foul producer Larry Goldman in the buff. He has man–breasts the size of space–hoppers.’
‘What about photos? We need photos.’
In her twelve years in newspapers, the unwritten law had always been ‘assume they won’t sue’, and Tess had always found that it was an accurate enough yardstick. She had a little black book of litigious stars and those who rarely took legal action, but when anybody did seek to challenge a story they had printed, the onus was on the newspaper to prove what they had written was true. That was why photographs were essential for a story like this.
‘The quality isn’t great,’ said Jemma, opening her laptop to flick through the digital images she had taken. ‘I used a spy camera that I’d hidden in the house during the afternoon.’
Tess leaned over her shoulder and pointed at an image of a flaxen–haired blonde. ‘Who’s this?’ she asked. The woman was wearing nothing but a strap–on and a Venetian mask and stood astride a naked fat man on his hands and knees.
‘But who’s the woman?’ said Tess hopefully.
Jemma shrugged. ‘Some hooker, I think.’
Tess’s excitement was starting to wane. So far, this wasn’t the big–noise story she was hoping for. Ten years ago, a cheating MP had been front–page news; but today hookers and studio heads did not shift newspapers like footballers and soap stars.
‘Do we have anything clearer of a bigger name?’ she asked hopefully. ‘What about a soap actress?’
‘How about this?’ said Jemma, enlarging an image with a triumphant look.
The picture was grainy. The man in the shot was naked and bent over what appeared to be a line of cocaine. Tess frowned and squinted.
‘Don’t you recognize him?’
Tess shook her head. ‘Who is it?’
‘Well, maybe you’ll see better in this one.’
Jemma clicked onto an image of a black van. You could clearly make out somebody was being carried into the back of it on a stretcher.
‘Shit,’ said Tess, her eyes widening. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘The same guy being stretchered into a private ambulance,’ said Jemma with a smile. ‘He’s at a private hospital in West London now.’
‘So who is it?’ asked Tess.
It took Tess a second to recognize the name. Sean Asgill was a New York playboy. Heir to a cosmetics family fortune. Handsome and wealthy, he was a fixture in the society pages with a string of model and actress girlfriends. It was a headline all right: “Tragedy at A–list Sex Party”.’
‘Christ,’ said Tess. ‘Did he … die?’
Tess felt bad asking, but it was an occupational hazard for someone in her job, wishing the worst on people because it made a better headline.
‘I followed the ambulance on my scooter and I told the nurse I was family. She told me it was a suspected ketamine overdose. Asgill probably thought it was a line of coke. Apparently he’s in a coma. I hung around for a bit and, after half an hour, this guy of about fifty turned up. His dad maybe? I scarpered pretty quickly.’
Jemma looked at Tess hopefully. ‘So what do you think? Is it the splash?’
Tess shook her head. The irony was that, in the States, this would not only be front–page news, it would also lead the TV news and would probably even make waves in Washington. Sean Asgill’s sister had just become engaged to the son of one of America’s richest and most powerful men, which made her brother’s drugs overdose at a sex party very hot gossip indeed. But over here, Sean Asgill was virtually unknown outside of society columns.
‘We’ll talk about this later,’ whispered Tess, snapping the laptop closed as Dom walked back into the room, naked except for a small towel wrapped around his waist, his tanned skin glistening with droplets of shower–water.
‘What are you two gossiping about?’ he smiled, clearly enjoying the two women’s eyes on him. ‘And where’s my tea?’
The Sunday Globe was a newspaper whose glory days were long gone. Tess sat back in her chair and looked at the chipped paintwork and tired carpet: the state of the office reflected the paper’s decline. After twenty years as a Daily Mail wannabe with a dwindling circulation, it had been bought by ruthless media mogul Robert Jenkins, who had turned it into a red–top tabloid, but the change of direction had failed to boost sales; Jenkins had ruthlessly cut costs and jobs to keep afloat. He certainly hadn’t spent any money on improving the working conditions, thought Tess, shutting down her temperamental and near–obsolete computer. When the Globe’s much–loved editor, the jolly, corpulent, fifty–something Derek Bradford had had a heart attack and died, Tess had been considered a shoo–in for the top job. Even though she was only twenty–nine, she had paid her dues: five years in local papers doing hard news, women’s editor at the Mirror, features
Tess stood up, smoothed down her Armani skirt and slipped on her sharply tailored jacket; it was time to show them who was boss. Every morning at ten a.m. the Sunday Globe had a news conference for the editorial team and, as today was Friday, the urgent item on the agenda was the splash for the Sunday front page, the first edition of which was sent down to the printers at six p.m. on Saturday night. Friday was therefore the most hectic time of the week, with the staff often working right through the weekend until the early hours of Sunday morning, ready to change the splash if a better story came in. In newspapers, the front page was everything.
‘So. Nothing obvious for the splash yet,’ began news editor Ben Leith boldly, when the key editorial staff were gathered around the oval conference table. Tess narrowed her eyes. She knew Ben was after her job, but there was no need to blatantly undermine her at the first opportunity.
‘Well, what do you have?’ asked Tess pointedly. ‘Speaking as news editor.’
Leith sighed. ‘There’s still the air hostess/prostitutes story hanging around. But the lawyers think the airline might sue.’
Tess grimaced. That particular story had been filed three weeks earlier and so far Andy had passed it over, leaving it for a dire week when there was nothing to splash with. Tess certainly didn’t want to run the lame–duck story in her week as editor.
‘We have Serena Balcon’s hen–night shots,’ said Jon Green, the Globe’s photo director eagerly. ‘She’s in Miami topless.’