Read Murder on the Village Green: A Diane Dimbleby Cozy Mystery Online
Authors: Penelope Sotheby
Murder on the Village Green
Copyright © 2016 Penelope Sotheby
First published in 2016 by Jonmac Limited.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters and places, incidents are used entirely fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.
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Murder At The Inn
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Murder in Bermuda
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Murder in the Bahamas
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Murder in Jamaica
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Murder in Barbados
(Book 4 in the "Murder in Paradise" series)
Murder in the Neighbourhood - Chapter 1
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Diane Dimbleby sits at her computer in her cozy cottage in Apple Mews, Shropshire. Taking a short break to stretch her wrists and relax her mind, she breathes in the fresh spring air coming in through the front window. She embraces the silence that is interrupted only slightly by the occasional song from a sparrow or chime from a pedal bike bell.
Closing her eyes, Diane goes back in time to Shrewsbury Abbey. That day she had headed to Shrewsbury to complete a self-guided tour of the town’s historic buildings. She had completely researched and planned the itinerary herself.
She remembers seeing the crowd outside the main entrance of the abbey. Police constables were stationed between the group of people and the cordoned-off doorway. Diane smiles, remembering how she had somehow managed to sneak under the police tape to enter the church.
On her way to the Abbey, Diane had imagined she would be gazing in awe at its ornate stained glass and its original, nearly thousand-year-old columns. Instead, she was shocked to see smashed glass, punctured organ pipes, spilled hymnals and hacked pews. It was a ghastly sight.
Diane laughs at recalling how Inspector Darrell Crothers discovered that she was behind police lines inside the church.
Their paths had crossed many times throughout those days following the atrocious vandalism. Locals and so-called witnesses had immediately pointed the finger at a young chap, James Cooper. He was rough-around-the-edges and known for getting himself into trouble a handful of times. He was immediately pegged as the scoundrel responsible for the Abbey’s destruction.
“The truth will set you free” is Diane’s steadfast motto. She isn’t so naïve to believe the justice system always embraces this philosophy. But she had shared this mantra with James Cooper when she had taken the liberty to question him the day after the vandalism.
Diane repeated this—“the truth will set you free”—to James because she wanted him to know that, if she had anything to do with it, his negative reputation would not impede a thorough investigation.
It was Diane’s intuition and persistence that finally persuaded Inspector Crothers to consider another suspect. And she had been right. (She is all too often right, much to the dismay of Inspector Crothers, although he will eventually have to admit that she is a great help rather than a hindrance.)
It hadn’t been James Cooper responsible for the vandalism. Rather, it had been a man who had reached breaking point, so to speak. He had recently been denied a recommendation from the Bishops’ Advisory to pursue training towards becoming an ordained minister. The man had taken out his anger and self-loathing on one of Shrewsbury’s most glorious buildings.
Diane snaps back to present day. Although less than an hour’s drive, in some respects Shrewsbury feels like a world away from her little village of Apple Mews. And London feels like it’s in a completely different galaxy.
Diane brings her fingers back to her keyboard and vividly describes the destruction she had witnessed inside Shrewsbury Abbey.
An hour of non-stop typing later, Diane stands and stretches to grasp her feet in a
position, her new favourite yoga pose. At 61 years old, she is the oldest in the village’s yoga class—the class is probably the most avant-garde thing happening in Apple Mews at present. But Diane has no trouble keeping up with the participants who are 30 or more years her junior. Many of her classmates had been, at one time, her students.
Diane retired from teaching at the local school last year, and is now keeping plenty busy as an aspiring mystery novelist. Her stories are inspired by her own amateur detective experiences, like her time at Shrewsbury Abbey. She likes to think her knack for solving crimes is a gift that was left to her by her late husband, David.
She had always admired David’s profession—he had been a police inspector at Scotland Yard. Tragically though, he was killed in the line of duty when he was called to the scene of a robbery.
Diane and David had only been married for two years when he was killed. That was almost 30 years ago. It is still the largest loss and challenge she has experienced during her six decades on Earth.
“Well, I think I deserve a treat for finishing this chapter,” says Diane out loud. “Maybe I’ll go pick up the ingredients to bake some chocolate brownies!”
Grabbing her purse, Diane leaves her cottage without locking the door. Not once has she locked her door while living in Apple Mews.
She has lived most of her life in the Shropshire village, save for the couple of years in London with David. If she were back in London, she would surely lock the door, and maybe even install an alarm system. But not in Apple Mews.
Apple Mews is likely one of the most sober communities in the county. And that’s just how Diane likes it. Besides, there is plenty to keep her entertained listening to the deliciously entertaining local gossip—there is no need for the hustle and bustle of city life.
On the way to the grocer, passing through the village green, Diane notices a man sitting on the plush grass. He is leaning against the sturdy trunk of an oak tree, reading a book. Diane does not recall ever meeting him before.
“Good afternoon!” she says in her customary manner.
Although some of the events that have come to characterize Diane’s life would turn many of us sour, Diane is still as friendly to strangers as she is to long-time friends and neighbours.
The man does not look up. Diane suspects he is quite engrossed in his book. She won’t bother disturbing him. She is hopeful that one day readers will be equally lost in one of her mystery stories.
Leisurely continuing through the green, Diane waves hello across the street to Gemma Evans. Gemma is watering the flowers outside the hotel she manages. Next door, the pub owner Alfie Parker is writing his ‘Today’s Specials’ on the chalkboard sign.
Diane counts ten people—nine school children plus the local vicar, Reverend Harvey—lined up outside the café for Helen Bell’s sticky buns, which are famous around the whole county.
When she reaches the local grocer, Diane is greeted by a colourful window display. Andrew Lloyd, the owner of the shop, prides himself on creating ‘art’ out of some of the merchandise he sells.
This particular version appears to be a tour route travelling to several of the region’s villages. The ‘map’ is creatively illustrated by yellow beans, garlic scapes and aubergines. The tour bus looks to be painstakingly constructed out of a tea box and liquorice toffees.
Diane hears the ring of the familiar shopkeeper’s bell as she walks through the front door.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Dimbleby,” says a burly, twinkle-eyed gent standing behind the counter. “Will you be joining the local produce tour this weekend? We have at least half a dozen farms arranged for the event. It shall be a delectable journey, oh a delectable journey!”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Andrew,” says Diane, while endearingly reaching up to pick a yellow bean out of his full head of hair. “The roles are certainly reversed, aren’t they? Instead of me quizzing you about the 100 Years’ War, you are now my leading authority on all things fruit and veg.”
“You were always my favourite teacher, Mrs. Dimbleby,” says Andrew, blushing.
“And you were such a hard-working pupil.”
Diane passes by tables filled with cauliflowers and lettuces, followed by cherries and strawberries, and heads to the baking aisle. She picks out a canister of cocoa and a bag of caster sugar.
“Baking brownies, I see. You must have finished the first five chapters?”
Diane turns around to see Albert and smiles.
Albert is Diane’s dearest friend in Apple Mews (and possibly the closest of all the people she’s called “friend” throughout her years). Their mutual affection for literature has tied them together for decades. More recently Albert has been the biggest supporter of Diane’s writing.
“And you must be getting ready to tuck into Edward Rutherfurd’s latest novel,” says Diane, eyeing the baguette and Stilton cheese in his hands.
“Guilty,” says Albert with his trademark silly smirk. “I’m also looking forward to tomorrow’s edition of ‘mead and mystery’.”
Diane enjoys their regular meetings where Albert reads her latest chapters. They discuss what can be improved and what reads juicily well. These nights almost always involve a glass or two of spirits, hence the
reference. Occasionally the time is complemented by a reading of one of the ‘whodunit greats,’ like Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, or even a viewing of an Alfred Hitchcock film.
“Tomorrow!” says Diane, her blue eyes beaming.
After paying for her ingredients, Diane leaves with a spirited pace, intent on smelling the aroma of baking brownies wafting through her cottage. She laughs as she dodges the primary students running down the lane with sticky buns in hand.
Returning through the village green, Diane sees more families and couples laying out picnic blankets to have their afternoon tea in the open air. A few adventurous souls in swimming costumes and trunks are testing the waters of the bordering lake. It will be at least a few more weeks before Apple Mews’ main swimming and canoeing hole is swarming with locals and day-trippers.
It is such a lovely June day that Diane wonders whether sitting on the green reading a nice book might be more of a treat than chocolate brownies. Reading in a beautiful setting, just like the stranger she had noticed briefly before.
Is he still here?
He is. Diane sees him leaning against the same tree, head bent towards the book still in his lap. She decides she’ll go introduce herself, a fellow bibliophile, and find out which tome he is so captivated by.
As she approaches, Diane sees it is a slight breeze, not his fingers, turning the pages. Diane decides not to disturb his nap and turns away. But she is struck by how still he is, almost mannequin-like. Perhaps he is ill and needs help.
Diane turns back and slowly approaches the man.
Is his chest rising and falling?
She feels her stomach somersault as she nears the stranger. She drops her groceries and kneels to the ground.
“Are you quite alright, Sir?” she asks. “My name is Diane. Can you hear me?”
He still does not move.
She swallows hard, then discreetly moves her ear close to the man’s nose and mouth and listens. She closes her eyes and concentrates, determined to hear even the smallest sign of air exchange.
But… she does not detect even a fraction of a breath.
Diane’s wishes her instincts are wrong, but it appears they are correct. This stranger to Apple Mews is not sleeping, nor ill. He is dead.
Intent on remaining calm, Diane inhales and exhales deeply. There are families, some with young children, all across the green. Two parents and two tots have literally stretched out a picnic blanket only a handful of metres away. She must not provoke any sense of panic.
Covertly, she takes her cell phone out of her pocket. Turning away from the young family, she dials 999.
“999, what’s your emergency?”
“I need you to send an ambulance and police assistance to the northeast quadrant of the common green on Main Street, Apple Mews. There is a deceased male, alone, leaning against a tree. Please hurry. There are many families in the park that could become frightened quite quickly once they get wind of this.”
Diane hangs up the phone. How could she have not noticed someone dead, or in the process of dying, sooner? And so very close to home!
In the meantime, Diane concludes, it’s best to clear vulnerable eyes from the area. She walks toward the family closest to the cadaver. She smiles gently at the two young children and approaches the dad.
“I don’t want to alarm you,” Diane whispers in the father’s ear. “But the man behind me, leaning against that tree there, has passed away. I’ve called emergency services. I think it best that you move your sweet little dears down closer to the lake, away from the…
The father’s eyes widen. “Oh my—!” he starts to gasp, but he is quickly shushed by his wife who grabs his arm firmly.
“Don’t go all collywobbles on me Henry,” his wife whispers harshly; and then, more jovially she says, “Come Tommy and Lucy… Dad will teach you how to skip rocks in the lake!”
Her husband does not follow right away, but instead gawks at the breathless man resting against the tree trunk. He covers his mouth as if he’s about to be sick.
“Are you quite alright Sir?” asks Diane.
will teach you how to skip rocks…HENRY!?! … Lake! … Now!” shouts the mom, rushing the children away.
Henry reluctantly obeys his wife, every so often turning back to stare at the lifeless body.
The sound of sirens can now be heard.
Main Street’s tenants and purveyors begin to poke their heads out or come right outside to see what’s happening. The sirens are a sound that is less than rarely heard in Apple Mews—as strange to the village as the dead man at the foot of the oak tree firmly rooted in the village green.
“Do you suppose someone has fallen ill at the nursing home, Gemma?” asks Alfie Parker outside his pub.