Best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe novels, which were adapted into a hit BBC series, Reginald Hill proves himself to be a “master of . . . cerebral puzzle mysteries” in his stand-alone thrillers as well—now available as ebooks (The New York Times).
Molly Keatley is a happy housewife living comfortably day-to-day in Westcliff-on-Sea. That changes in a heartbeat when her husband, Sam, grabs his suitcase, offers a hurried “I love you,” sprints out the door, and disappears from her life. Then, a British agent invites himself in with shattering news: Sam is a Soviet spy and traitor. And his secrets don’t end there. Though her dream life has been upended by an unforgivable betrayal, Molly won’t be intimidated. Not by Sam’s unstable mistress, not by British Intelligence, nor by Sam’s colleagues, who are watching every move she makes. But when she receives a surreptitious invitation from Sam to join him in Bucharest, Molly’s life will change once again as she discovers the nature of his lies, the consequences of deception, and the truth about her own desires.
Reginald Hill has crafted a “terrific, suspenseful tale and an extraordinary heroine” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer).
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At nine o'clock on an early September day of mist and promise, Molly Keatley was washing the breakfast dishes when she heard the front door open.
"Sam, is that you?" she called.
There was no reply, but she heard footsteps move rapidly across the entrance hall and up the creaky stairs. Drying her hands on the tea-towel, she went out of the kitchen and stood in the hallway. Through the open front door she could see her husband's blue Datsun parked so close to the edge of the narrow drive that one of her favourite rose-bushes had been all but uprooted as he got out.
"Oh, Sam!" she said with irritation, and went out to inspect the damage.
Footsteps clattered down the stairs and Sam Keatley appeared in the doorway.
He was a stocky, short-necked man whose normal expression was one of sleepy amiability. His hair was thick and wiry but prematurely grey for a man of fortyfour. In times of stress he ran his fingers through it obsessively.
His left hand was harrowing away now, and in his right he carried a small suitcase.
"Look what you've done," Molly said.
"I'm sorry," he said, tossing the case onto the passenger seat.
"Back the car off, then help me get it back on an even keel. You've ruined all those buds."
"I'm sorry," he repeated, climbing into the driving seat.
"I wouldn't mind, but there's plenty of trains. Why all the hurry? What had you forgotten anyway?"
"I'm sorry," he said for the third time.
It began to occur to her that the object of this repetitious apology was not just the rose-bush.
"Sam," she said.
"I'll get in touch," he said. "I love you."
He slammed the door, trapping a cluster of leaves. As the car reversed violently down the drive, a flowering shoot was ripped off the bush and it was this she always recalled later, not Sam's uncharacteristically pale and set face through the distancing glass. Uncharacteristic too was the ferocity with which he sent the Datsun hurtling down the suburban avenue and round the corner towards the arterial road.
Molly stared in wonder after him, dimly apprehending something momentous. The empty avenue curved away between green-hedged villas, quiet and sinister as an old film set. Then a dog padded purposefully out of a gateway, and a milk-float whined along the gutter.
Now only the bright wound on the rose-bush told her Sam had been home.CHAPTER 2
At nine-thirty the door bell rang.
The man on the step was young, late twenties at the most. He was casually but smartly dressed in a suit of faded denim, and his blond hair was sculpted in a single wind-swept wave that you could have gone surfing on.
Molly regarded him in silence, knowing that here was trouble certain as a War Office telegram.
"Mrs. Keatley?" he said with the accent and intonation of good English breeding. His mouth wouldn't have needed much encouragement to rearrange itself in a boyishly charming smile.
Molly gave it none, but nodded, blank-faced.
"Is your husband at home, Mrs. Keatley?" he enquired courteously.
She shook her head.
"May I step inside for a moment?" he said. "Just for a moment."
She opened her mouth, couldn't speak, swallowed, opened it again to beg to be told, please, what was going on. Hysterics wouldn't have surprised her.
Instead she heard herself asking coldly, "Are you selling something?"
"No," he said, taken aback. "Please, just for a moment. Look."
He was showing her a card. It had his photograph fixed to it, over-stamped like a passport picture. On it he looked older, more harassed.
"No, thanks," she said. "I've got an album full of old snapshots."
She did not know why she was saying these things. Her normal doorstep manner was polite, conciliatory almost. Brush salesmen and charity collectors went away happy, and there had been times when even Mormons and Witnesses had got enough courtesy to bring them back, reinforced, at night, to be turned away by an exasperated Sam.
The blond man, whose name, printed alongside his photograph, was Aspinall, frowned uncertainly as though he too were surprised at the change. Now he looked more like his picture.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It would help. It's about your husband. I'm a sort of policeman."
He held out the card once more. Molly ignored it but turned on her heel and marched through into the lounge. When she turned he was right behind her.
"Thank you," he said. "Has Mr. Keatley been back this morning?"
She didn't answer. She did not know what an answer might do.
"He left at his usual time to drive to the station, didn't he? What I mean is, has he been back since then?"
She opened her mouth as if to speak but nothing came out so she closed it again. Now he did give her the boyish smile, full of charm, and said, "Look, Mrs. Keatley, it just saves the embarrassment of asking the neighbours."
She gave an amazed laugh, a single incredulous bark. What kind of pressure did he think he was applying? This was yesterday's threat. This was being sent to bed without any supper.
He took the sound for an encouragement, and this time he was right.
"He has been back, hasn't he?" he urged.
"Yes," she said. Not because of the neighbours, but because the laugh had left this new woman ready to take a faltering step towards finding out what had happened.
Aspinall looked more relieved than his certainty should have required.
"May I," he said, "may I pop upstairs, and may I use your phone?"
He left the room without waiting for an answer and closed the door quietly behind him. It seemed odd that he should want to use the loo so urgently, thought Molly as she listened to his feet ascending the creaky stairs and tried not to think of Sam. Then she heard his footsteps in the bedroom above her, and when she opened the lounge door, she could hear other doors opening and closing with swift efficiency and no attempt at stealth.
Aspinall came down the stairs and smiled at her again.
"I won't be a tick," he said, closing the lounge door in her face.
She heard him pick up the phone receiver and begin to dial. She waited till the dialling had finished and he had begun to speak before she threw open the door and stepped out into the hallway to listen.
He glanced round at her but his flow of words was uninterrupted.
"Yes, he's been back. We were right. At least that cuts down his start. I'm sorry, but Freddie got on the train and it's non-stop to Liverpool Street. He got it stopped at Shenfield. No, not without pulling the cord. I was nearly at Brentwood by the time he got through to the car. Half an hour at least. Yes, I dare say we did pass, thank you very much. No, she hasn't. I'm not sure. Yes, she is. How long? OK, I'll wait till he gets here. See you."
He put down the receiver.
"I think I would like to ring my solicitor," said Molly. She watched him closely to assess his reaction.
"I was about to suggest it, Mrs. Keatley," he said. "It might help."
He stepped away from the phone and motioned her forward. She was perplexed. The only solicitor she had any knowledge of was the one that Sam had selected, apparently at random, to go through the lease when they rented the house eight years before. She would have to look through the papers to find even his name and, besides, he had seemed so antique, it would not surprise her if he were dead.
"Mr. Aspinall," she said, at last reverting to type, "please. What's this all about?"
"Ring your solicitor," he urged gently.
"I want to know what's happened before I ring anybody," she insisted. "What am I supposed to say? There's a strange man forced his way into my house and he wants me to ring a solicitor?"
Aspinall looked at his watch. He was expecting someone to arrive, and getting her to ring a solicitor was probably as good a way as any of keeping her occupied. Whoever was coming must carry enough clout not to be worried by some dandruffy conveyancer. For a second she thought of running out into the street and yelling at the neighbours to fetch the police. But to what end? That little plastic-covered card looked potent enough to sort out a lad in a Panda-car.
She felt sick. She was desperate to know what was happening, desperate to remain ignorant; desperate for help, desperate to be left alone; desperate to see Sam, desperate to know that he was safe even if it meant not seeing him.
Images of crime crowded into her mind. Murder. Whose? Embezzlement. What was there that a journalist could embezzle? RapeSam was in his forties no, not that, nothing like that — but was a sexual aberration less likely than the others? Sam was in his forties. Not an easy time. Their sex life had not been so good lately. She had made a conscious effort not to press him too hard, but at thirty-three she had begun to feel the years slipping away and wanted to have a child, and soon. He too, he claimed, and yet in the past month or so he had seemed to turn away from her more and more frequently. So she had been wise and not pursued, not nagged, but she had lain awake sometimes and wondered. Now fresh fears rose. Infidelity? Hardly a crime. But some kind of breakdown — young girls. Young boys. Please God, not that!
"Are you all right, Mrs. Keatley?" said Aspinall anxiously. "Please, come and sit down."
She let herself be led into the lounge and placed on the sofa.
"Shall I get you a drink? Or a cup of tea?" said Aspinall.
"That would be nice."
He went out, and she leaned back and closed her eyes. Aspinall had said he was a kind of policeman. Perhaps that was just a euphemism for private detective. Perhaps it was simply infidelity (the relief!) and Sam had just left her for another woman, and her husband had been having him watched. That would explain ...hardly anything. The suitcase he'd been carrying, she couldn't recall seeing it before. What had he taken? She ought to check.
She rose and went into the hall. She could hear Aspinall in the kitchen, probably looking for the teapot. Cupboard doors were opening and shutting with the same swift efficiency as had marked his progress upstairs. He had been searching. Surely no simple divorce detective would have dared be so blatant?
She picked up the phone and began to dial.
Aspinall appeared before she'd started the second digit.
"Who're you ringing?" he asked.
She continued to dial.
"Hello," she said. "Give me the news desk."
He moved swiftly towards her, snatched the phone from her unresisting hand and put it to his ear for a moment.
"What do you think you're doing, Mrs. Keatley?" he said, banging the receiver down on the rest, but keeping his hand on it.
"What's happening to me is news," she said, control beginning to go. "I don't know what it is, but I bet it's news. You won't tell me anything so I'm going to ask a newspaper."
"Believe me," he said urgently. "They won't know anything. Honestly."
"Then they bloody well ought to know!" she screamed. "And I bloody well ought to know! Now either tell me or give me that fucking phone."
She didn't swear much herself, and she didn't like people who swore casually and without noticing it. She couldn't have explained why. But now she dimly apprehended that for her these words had been like a pacifist's bullets, stored away and never thought on till violence was the only peace move left.
And the violence was more than verbal. She tried to grab the phone. Aspinall kept his grip on it, and she had no chance in a straight tug-o'-war. So she seized his golden hair right in the middle of the Malibu wave and pulled with all her strength screaming "Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!"
Aspinall must have been in agony, but with his head bent forward under the pressure of her grip, he tried to fend her off with one hand, saying all the while, "Please, Mrs. Keatley," and even muttering "Sorry" when his fingers accidentally pushed against her breast.
"Tell me!" she screamed. "You fucking bastard, tell me!"
"Tell you what, missus?" said a new voice.
Standing in the doorway was another man. He was about Sam's age, but much thinner, with receding black hair, generously oiled and slicked back as though to accentuate the incipient baldness. He wore a dark blue suit a little crumpled, a little shiny, with a brown woollen cardigan with two buttons undone under the jacket. His narrow face was made for the stoic sneer. He looked like the clerk of works on a building site who holds in equal contempt those who employ him and those who are employed.
"Tell you what?" he repeated in a broad Black Country accent.
"Tell me where my husband is," she said, releasing Aspinall who gasped with relief and began to rearrange his hair.
"As for that, missus," said the newcomer, "I'm hoping you'll tell me. But don't be upset. I'll tell you what he is just so you can stop pretending not to know. Sam Keatley's a spy, missus. And he's a traitor, missus. And he's probably a dozen other nasty things besides. And if you're going to faint, missus, do it in Mr. Aspinall's direction. He's had the schooling for it. I'll be in your living-room when you're ready to talk."CHAPTER 3
Molly Haddington had been twenty-three when she first met Sam Keatley. Three years before that she had been living with her parents in her home town of Doncaster in South Yorkshire, where she worked as a typist for the National Coal Board. She was also engaged to be married.
She had known her fiancé distantly since their arrival at the same secondary school, and more closely since they started going together when she was sixteen. They had a great deal in common. He played football and badminton in the winter, and cricket and tennis in the summer, and she watched. She genuinely admired his prowess, though she felt he might have admitted and admired her superiority on the dance floor instead of belittling it. To tell the truth, once off the sports field, Trevor looked rather gawky, and though he was six months older than she was, he seemed somehow to have stuck at that unformed, indeterminate stage most boys reach about seventeen. When her father opined that there "weren't much flesh on him," her mother retaliated confidently that the Challengers filled out late and indeed sometimes ran to fat.
Mrs. Haddington was very much for Trevor, who had got good "O" levels and was reputed to be doing very well as a sales-trainee with Don-Flo Machine Tools Ltd. He himself spoke confidently of the future.
"We'll probably have to move around a bit when we're married," he said. "You won't mind?"
"No," she said.
"Once we get into the EEC, the sky's the limit," he said. "How do you fancy a flat in Brussels?"
"Nice," she said.
"Those who are ready'll get chosen," he said with an almost religious conviction. "I'm thinking of doing an evening class in Spanish."
"Is Spain in the EEC, then?" she asked, some vague recollection of her "O" level studies stirring.
He smiled patronizingly and went on about his proposed travels, with which Molly in her turn patronized her fellow typists who were either unengaged or promised to lads whose horizons stopped at Rotherham.
But she could not spend all her time feeling superior to her friends or inferior to her fiancé, and as the months passed and the proposed date of the wedding approached, more and more she found herself lying in bed at night, wondering about the future — not in any analytical logical fashion because that was not her way, but as one might immerse oneself in a steaming tub of water and lie there till it grew grey and cold, yet still find lacking the will to get out.
She was twenty now, physically fully mature and though not beautiful in any of the classical styles, she had a lively attractiveness which won the approval of all and the propositions of many. She was vain enough to be pleased, and had Trevor merely reacted to her hints of other admirers with straightforward jealousy, she would probably have quickly relented and enjoyed soothing him. Instead he chose to attack those who admired her, categorizing them individually and generally as notorious lechers, driven by such indiscriminate lust that a kilted Scot was not safe from their advances.
Molly regarded him coldly, and some cog in her mind, rusted by years of inactivity both at school and after, moved. In two months' time at the end of March (for tax reasons), they were going to get married. The cog moved again, its teeth catching and gripping and turning in its turn.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Spy's Wife"
Copyright © 1969 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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