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Authors: Lesley Cookman

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Murder at the Laurels

BOOK: Murder at the Laurels
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MURDER
AT THE LAURELS

LESLEY COOKMAN

First published by Accent Press Ltd – 2007

This edition printed 2012

ISBN 9781908917065

Copyright © Lesley Cookman 2007

The right of Lesley Cookman to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, The Old School, Upper High St, Bedlinog, Mid Glamorgan, CF46 6SA.

Cover design by Sarah Ann Davies

More titles in the Libby Sarjeant Series

WHO'S WHO IN THE LIBBY SARJEANT SERIES

Libby Sarjeant

Former actor, sometime artist, resident of 17, Allhallow's Lane, Steeple Martin. Owner of Sidney the cat.

Fran Castle

Also former actor, occasional psychic, and owner of Balzac the cat.

Ben Wilde

Owner of The Manor Farm and the Oast House Theatre.

Guy Wolfe

Artist and owner of a shop and gallery in Harbour Street, Nethergate.

Peter Parker

Ben's cousin. Free-lance journalist, part-owner of The Pink Geranium restaurant and partner of Harry Price.

Harry Price

Chef and co-owner of The Pink Geranium and Peter Parker's partner.

Hetty Wilde

Ben's mother. Lives at The Manor.

Greg Wilde

Hetty's husband and Ben's father.

DCI Ian Connell

Local policeman.

Adam Sarjeant

Libby's youngest son. Works with garden designer Mog, mainly at Creekmarsh.

Lewis Osbourne-Walker

TV gardener and handy-man who owns Creekmarsh.

Sophie Wolfe

Guy's daughter. Lives above the gallery.

Flo Carpenter

Hetty's oldest friend.

Lenny Fisher

Hetty's brother. Lives with Flo Carpenter.

Ali and Ahmed

Owners of the Eight-til-late in the village.

Jane Baker

Chief Reporter for the
Nethergate Mercury
. Mother to Imogen.

Terry Baker

Jane's husband and father of Imogen.

Joe, Nella and Owen

Of Cattlegreen Nurseries.

DCI Don Murray

Of Canterbury Police.

Amanda George

Novelist, known as Rosie

Chapter One

‘
H
OW MANY MORE DO
you want, then?' Libby Sarjeant pushed a wisp of damp, rusty-coloured hair off her brow. ‘I can't turn them out like sausages.'

Guy Wolfe grinned at her from behind his neat goatee beard. ‘You can't turn them out at all unless you haven't got anything else to do,' he said. ‘You're one of the most unreliable suppliers I've got.'

‘Thanks.' Libby tried to look outraged and failed. ‘Suppliers, is that what we are? I thought we were artists.'

‘To me you're suppliers. Now,
I'm
an artist.' He turned to look smugly at the rows of greetings cards behind him.

Libby snorted. ‘That's prostituting your art,' she said.

‘No it isn't. It's being practical. Think of all the Laughing Cavalier and Stag at Bay cards that are sold each year.'

‘I didn't know you were that famous.' Libby picked up her basket and slung it over her shoulder.

‘Only among a certain well-informed set,' said Guy, and laughed as her mouth dropped open. ‘I'm teasing, Lib.'

‘Oh.' Libby turned towards the door and then remembered. ‘You never said how many more you wanted. And if you do, do you want them all the same?'

‘I'll take whatever you can produce, and as long as it's pretty, it doesn't matter what the view is. You sell quite well, you know.'

Libby smiled, her turn to be smug. ‘I know. Especially –'

‘Since you turned detective?'

‘No, I was going to say especially that one –'

‘The view through the window?'

‘With the yellow roses, yes.'

‘The punters loved that. Was it from imagination?'

‘No, I visited the cottage once.' Libby sighed. ‘It was beautiful. I wanted it.'

‘Was this when you were house hunting? What was it Peter and Harry called it?'

‘The search for Bide-a-Wee. Yes, it was then.'

‘But Nethergate's miles from Steeple Martin.' Guy perched on the edge of the old oak table that did duty as a counter.

‘When I was house hunting I wasn't looking particularly in Steeple Martin. Just something small and somewhere else.' Libby turned her head and looked out of the window. ‘Nethergate was somewhere else, as well as Steeple Martin. Just too expensive.'

‘Seaside location, you see.' Guy narrowed his eyes and put his head on one side. ‘Wish you'd moved here instead, now?'

Libby sighed again. ‘In a way. It's all been very difficult.'

‘Murder usually is,' said Guy.

Libby nodded mournfully.

‘Look, why don't I take you to lunch? You need cheering up, and Sophie can mind the shop.'

Guy's daughter looked up from her magazine and nodded vaguely. ‘No customers, anyway,' she said.

Guy made an exasperated sound and slid off the table. ‘Come on,' he said, taking Libby's arm. ‘Let's leave her to it.'

‘She's right, though, there aren't any customers,' said Libby, as they walked along Harbour Street towards Guy's favourite pub. ‘Don't be too hard on her.'

Guy grinned. ‘I'm not really. Sophie works for me and lives with her mother. A remarkably well-adjusted child. Just very modern.'

‘Hardly a child, and of course she's modern. Did you expect a Renaissance maiden?'

‘I'd have preferred it. Look what happens to modern misses. That Paula, for instance,' said Guy, referring to the murder case Libby had been involved with in the spring.

Libby shuddered. ‘I'd rather not even think about her, thank you.'

‘Well, ignore her, then, but I want to know the inside story. People do ask, you know.'

‘What people?' said Libby, surprised, as they went into the cool interior of The Swan.

‘Those customers there aren't any of,' said Guy. ‘When they see your name, if they're local, they always say, “Oh, she was involved in that murder, wasn't she?” and I waffle and mumble.'

‘Carry on waffling and mumbling then,' said Libby sitting at a table. ‘How on earth do they know, anyway?'

‘Local papers, local radio. It was hardly low profile, was it?'

Libby accepted her half of lager. ‘No, but it's still not something I want to talk about.'

‘Ah, but it got you together with the lovely Ben, didn't it?' said Guy, slyly.

‘Sort of,' said Libby, frowning.

‘Only sort of?' Guy looked at her down-turned face and decided not to pursue the subject, despite his normal elephant child curiosity. ‘So,' he said, casting round for a new subject. ‘How are the kids?'

The telephone rang as soon as Libby opened the door of Number 17 Allhallow's Lane later on that afternoon. She fell down the step and answered it, breathing hard.

‘Libby, it's Fran. How are you?'

Libby sat down on the stairs with a bump.

‘Goodness, Fran, how are
you
? Haven't heard from you for ages.' She fended off the advances of Sidney, the silver tabby, who was determined to convince her he was starving to death.

‘No, sorry. I kept meaning to ring you, but somehow … I don't know.' Libby did. Fran felt uncomfortable about the circumstances of their friendship.

‘Well, the thing is,' Fran went on, ‘I've had a call from my cousin Charles to say it's my Aunt Eleanor's birthday today. Apparently, the rest of the family are all going to see her this afternoon.'

‘Yes?' said Libby, puzzled.

‘Well, Aunt Eleanor's in The Laurels, just outside Nethergate.'

Should have known, thought Libby. Coincidence upon coincidence.

‘So you're coming down, then?”

‘Not today, I can't,' said Fran, ‘but tomorrow. I just wondered if we could meet up for a drink.'

‘Funnily enough, I've just come back from Nethergate. A little gallery there sells my paintings. There's a nice pub there called The Swan.'

‘That'd be great. The only thing is, I'm car-less at the moment –'

‘Would you like me to pick you up at the station? I could take you to your auntie's.'

‘No, no,' said Fran hastily, ‘that wasn't what I meant. I thought, when I've seen Auntie, perhaps I could ring you and we can both make our way there. Or I could catch a bus to you.'

‘You'll be lucky, there aren't any,' said Libby, amused. ‘No, you ring me when you're ready and I'll meet you at The Swan. And why don't you come back with me and stay the night? We could have dinner at the caff.'

‘Are you sure?' Fran sounded wary. ‘I wouldn't have thought anyone would want to see me.'

‘Don't be daft. You practically saved my life, didn't you? Everyone will be delighted to see you.'

There was a pause. ‘What about Ben?' asked Fran. ‘Won't he mind me being there?'

‘What's it got to do with Ben?' said Libby, pulling a face.

‘Won't he be around?'

‘Maybe. We don't live in each other's pockets, Fran.'

‘Oh. I thought …'

‘Yes, well, it didn't quite pan out.'

‘But what happened? It all seemed …'

Libby sighed. ‘I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Now, have you still got my mobile number? And come to think of it, have I got yours?'

Fran switched off her mobile and stared reflectively at what she thought of as her Betjeman kitchen. When she was a child, she lived in a world epitomised by John Betjeman's business women and their bathrooms stuck precariously on the back of tall grimy buildings, issuing steam into grey morning air glimpsed through a yellowing train window. Of course, she didn't know Betjeman then, but as soon as she heard his overstuffed cushiony voice reading that poem on the radio, she knew she had found a soulmate. She didn't feel quite so at home with his statuesque tennis and rowing girls, their lives bore little relation to hers, but his affection for Metroland and Cornish churches, and dates in tawdry dance halls, was as if her own thoughts had taken form and set themselves to paper.

It all boiled down to nostalgia, of course. As a child, Fran could summon up nostalgia for things that she had never even experienced, for places she had never been. She lived in an ever-changing world of her own, now flying up to those grimy bathrooms in Camden Town, then conveyed in a bumpy carriage through a concealed tunnel in rock to a hidden valley in the West Country, next climbing a small green hill above a sea of cow parsley in the Suffolk countryside. Every book she read was measured for its ability to transport her to the place between its covers and her favourites were, and remained, those that did. There were others, borrowed from the library, that she never owned and therefore never read again, but their atmosphere lingered round the edges of her memory like coloured smoke.

She supposed that was part of the reason that she became an actress. She wanted to write, but the words eluded her. She could never transport herself to one of those magical places, so she became other people, able to live in their lives, in their penthouse apartments, seedy bed-sitting rooms, country vicarages, nuclear shelters. She had children of all ages, many husbands and lovers and several different parents. Along the way, she acquired a real life husband and three children, but she was never really comfortable with them. They were too real. Her real husband got fed up with her constant search for the magical place and left her. The children stayed and helped her attain a sort of reality, partly because then she had to stop moving. Until the money ran out and she finally ended up in Betjeman land with a stuck-on bathroom three floors up looking out over the criss-cross railway lines of central London. Somehow, the Betjeman flat wasn't as romantic as she had thought it might be. The blue and white lino in the kitchen was cracked and the window sealed up with blistering grey paint, while a plastic ventilator whirred dustily in the top right-hand corner of the glass. The geyser probably pre-dated Betjeman and dribbled occasional hot water from a reluctant rusting arm, and Fran clung on to her dreams.

In a world that owes its existence to dreams, those that don't conform to the stuff of those dreams are soon edged out to the perimeter. There were women with slimmer figures than Fran's, prettier faces and fewer years than hers, and they were there for every audition, every part. Eventually she admitted defeat, and that was when she'd met Ben.

And through Ben she'd met Libby and got peripherally involved in the murder investigation that had devastated the village, and particularly Ben's family.

The phone on the landing began to ring. Fran had given up thinking it might be for her months ago and made no move to answer it, knowing that her downstairs neighbour would be there before her anyway. Sure enough, she heard Dahlia's broad voice, as distinctive as her broad hips, in cheerful conversation with the unseen caller.

‘Miz Castle. Phone, Miz Castle.'

Surprised, she pushed herself away from the table. Most people used her mobile, except, she remembered, as she went downstairs, cousin Charles.

‘Charles?' she said, as she lifted the grubby receiver.

‘How did you know it was me?' He sounded surprised.

‘You're the only one who calls me on this number,' said Fran. ‘Where are you? I thought you were going to see Aunt Eleanor today?'

There was a short silence.

A muffling blackness descended on Fran and she dug her nails into her palm hard to force her mind to clear.

‘She's dead, isn't she?' she said.

‘Fran, you're scaring me,' said Charles. ‘First, you knew it was me, second, you knew she was dead. What's going on? Were you down there today?'

Fran took a deep breath. ‘No, of course not. I told you, you're the only person who rings me on this number, and I doubt if you'd have rung to tell me how she was as I'm going myself tomorrow.'

‘You won't go now, surely?'

‘No? Oh, I suppose not.' Fran frowned. ‘But I've already made arrangements to stay with an old friend. I might as well go down.'

‘Why don't you go and stay on the night of the funeral instead? I assume you'll go to the funeral?'

‘When is it?'

‘Not sure yet. I'll give you a lift if you like.'

‘Thank you, I'd appreciate that.'

‘I'll ring you nearer the time, then, shall I?' said Charles, sounding more normal.

‘Yes, great, Charles, but you haven't told me what happened. When did she die? What was it? Heart?'

‘I suppose so, but no one seems to know. Barbara got there first today and was actually sitting with her without realising she was dead.'

‘Who's Barbara?'

‘Remember I told you? My sort-of cousin? Barbara Denver.'

‘Oh, right. Yes. Well, Eleanor was quite old, wasn't she?'

‘Over 90. She –'

‘Don't say it,' Fran jumped in quickly. ‘Please don't say she had a good innings.'

‘No clichés allowed, eh?' said Charles, sounding amused.

‘Sorry. It's so belittling. But how awful for you all. Especially Barbara.'

‘Well, yes. She wasn't too happy. Anyway, I thought I ought to let you know.'

‘Very kind of you, Charles. Thank you. And I'll give you a ring later in the week, shall I?'

‘Fine. At least you've saved yourself a trip tomorrow,' said Charles.

Bloody prat. What a thing to say. Fran climbed back up to the Betjeman flat, absolutely certain that, tomorrow, she was going to The Laurels.

BOOK: Murder at the Laurels
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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