CHESTER SQUARE IS SITUATED IN THE heart of Belgravia, behind Eaton Square and just off fashionable Elizabeth Street. Its classic, white-stucco-fronted houses are arranged around a charming, private garden. In the corner of the square, St. Mark’s Church nestles serenely beneath a large horse chestnut tree, its ancient brass bells pealing on the hour, conveniently saving the square’s residents the trouble of glancing at their Patek Philippe watches. From the street, the homes on Chester Square look large and comfortable.
They are enormous and utterly palatial.
It’s an oft-repeated cliché in Belgravia that no Englishman could afford to live in Chester Square. Like most clichés, it is true. Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch owner of Chelsea football club, owned a house there, before he ran off with his young mistress and left the property to his wife. Over the years, Mrs. Abramovich’s neighbors included two Hollywood film stars, a French soccer hero, the Swiss founder of Europe’s largest hedge fund, a Greek prince and an Indian software tycoon. The rest of the houses on the square were owned, without exception, by American investment bankers.
Until the day that one of those American investment bankers, distraught over the collapse of his investments, put a rare Bersa Thunder pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. His heirs sold the house to a British baronet. And so it was that Sir Piers Henley became the first Englishman to own a house in Chester Square for over twenty-five years.
He was also the first person to be murdered there.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR WILLARD DREW OF SCOTLAND Yard handed the woman a cup of sweet tea and tried not to stare at her full, sensual lips as she sipped the steaming cup. Beneath her half-open bathrobe, blood splatters were still clearly visible on her pale, lightly freckled thighs. The rape had been particularly violent. But not as violent as the murder.
While Inspector Drew interviewed the woman downstairs, up in the bedroom his men were scraping her husband’s brain tissue out of the Persian carpet. The master-bedroom walls looked like a freshly painted Jackson Pollock. An explosion of blood, of rage, of animal madness had taken place in that room, the likes of which Detective Inspector Drew had never seen before. There was only one word for it: carnage.
Inspector Drew said, “We can do this later, ma’am, if it’s too much for you right now. Perhaps when you’ve recovered from the shock?”
“I will never recover, Inspector. We’d better do it now.”
She looked directly at him when she spoke, which Inspector Drew found disconcerting. Beautiful was the wrong word for this petite redhead. She was sexy. Painfully sexy. She was creamy skin and velvet softness and quivering, vulnerable femininity, every inch a lady. The only incongruous note about her was her voice. Beneath her four-hundred-dollar Frette bathrobe, this woman was cockney to the bone.
Inspector Drew said, “If you’re sure you’re up to it, we could start by verifying some basic details.”
“I’m up to it.”
“The deceased’s full name?”
Lady Tracey Henley took a deep breath. “Piers…William…Arthur…Gunning Henley.”
PIERS WILLIAM ARTHUR GUNNING HENLEY, THE only son of the late Sir Reginald Henley, baronet, was born into modest, landed wealth.
By his thirtieth birthday, he was one of the richest men in England.
Never particularly successful at school—his housemaster at Eton had accurately described him as “a charming time-waster”—Piers had an instinctive gift for business. In particular, he possessed that rare alchemy that enabled him to sense exactly when a struggling company was at its nadir, if it would bounce back, when, and how far. He bought his first failing business, a small provincial brokerage in Norfolk, at the age of twenty-two. Everybody, including his father, thought he was crazy. When Piers sold the business six years later, they had offices in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Paris and had reported pretax profits for that year of twenty-eight million pounds.
It was a small success for Piers Henley, but an important one. It taught him to trust his instincts. It also increased his appetite for risk. Calculated risk. Over the next thirty-five years, Piers bought and sold more than fifteen businesses and held on to two: his hedge fund, Henley Investments, and Jassops, a chain of high-end jewelers whose brand Piers had totally revitalized till they were outperforming the likes of Asprey and Graff. He also acquired (and later divested himself of) a wife, Caroline, and two children; a daughter, Anna, with his wife, and a son, Sebastian, with his mistress. Both children and their respective mothers were provided with comfortable homes and generous allowances. But Piers had neither the time nor the inclination to pursue a family life. Nor was he remotely interested in conventional notions of romance.
At least not until his sixtieth birthday, when a chance encounter with a young woman named Tracey Stone changed his life forever.
For his birthday party, Sir Piers (he’d inherited the baronetcy a month before on his father’s death) hired a private room at the Groucho Club in Soho. A mecca for London’s successful media and literary types, the Groucho was exclusive, but nevertheless managed to maintain a sort of threadbare, scruffy Englishness that Piers had always rather relished. It reminded him of his childhood, of the down-at-heel grandeur of Kingham Hall, the Henley family estate, where Constables and Turners hung on the walls but the heating was never switched on and all the carpets were riddled with moth holes.
Sir Piers Henley approved of the venue, but was depressed by the guest list. His secretary, Janey, had drawn it up as usual. Looking around at the same old faces, captains of industry and finance, accompanied either by their frozen-faced first wives or beautiful but grasping second wives, Piers thought bleakly, When did everybody get so old? So dull? When exactly had he exchanged his real friendships for this? Contacts and business acquaintances.
It was while he was pondering this important question that the waitress poured scalding lobster bisque directly onto his crotch. To the end of his life, Sir Piers Henley would have livid burn marks on the inside of his thighs. Every time he looked at them, he thanked his lucky stars.
The Groucho party had been Tracey Stone’s first day as a waitress, and her last. As Sir Piers Henley screamed and leaped to his feet, Tracey dropped to her knees, unbuckled his belt and pulled off his trousers faster than a whore on commission. Then, without so much as “May I, my lord?” she whipped off his Y-fronts and emptied a jug of ice water over the baronet’s exposed genitalia. The cool water felt marvelous. The fact that he was standing in the middle of the Groucho Club in front of half of London society stark bollock naked felt…even more marvelous. Despite the searing pain in his legs and balls, Sir Piers Henley realized he felt more alive in those few moments than he had in the last fifteen years put together. Here he was, praying for a return of youth, of life, of excitement…and poof, a beautiful girl had dropped into his lap. Or rather, a beautiful girl had dropped lava-hot soup into his lap, but why split hairs? He couldn’t have been more delighted.
Tracey Stone was in her late twenties, with short, spiky red hair, dark brown eyes and a skinny, boyish figure that looked quite preposterously sexy in her black-and-white maid’s get-up. She’s like a human matchstick, thought Piers, sent to light me up.
And light him up Tracey did.
When Tracey agreed to go on a date with Piers, her friends thought she was crazy.
“He’s about a hundred and nine, Trace.”
“With a cock like a burned cocktail sausage thanks to you.”
Piers’s friends were equally scandalized.
“She’s younger than your daughter, old boy.”
“She’s a waitress, Piers. And not even a good one.”
“She’ll rob you blind.”
Neither of them listened. Tracey and Piers knew their friends were wrong. Tracey wasn’t interested in Piers’s money. And Piers couldn’t have cared less if Tracey’s parents were as cockney as Bow Bells. She had switched on a part of him that he had believed long dead. As the burns on his groin slowly began to heal, all he could think about was going to bed with her.
On their first date, Piers took Tracey to dinner at the Ivy. They roared with laughter through three delicious courses, but afterward Tracey hopped into a black cab before Piers could so much as give her a peck on the cheek.
On the second date, they went to the theater. It was a mistake. Tracey was bored. Piers was bored. Another cab was hailed and Piers thought, I’ve lost her.
The next morning at seven A.M., the doorbell rang at Piers’s flat on Cadogan Gardens. It was Tracey. She was carrying a suitcase.
“I need to ask you summink,” she said bluntly. “Are you gay?”