Authors: Emma Burstall
A new couple have arrived in Tremarnock, but will these glamorous strangers fit into village life? Book two in the Cornish Village series.
Tremarnock is a small fishing village, crowded with holidaymakers in the summer, but a sleepy Cornish backwater at other times of the year.
Here Liz has found refuge with her young daughter, Rosie, after her relationship with Rosie’s father came unstuck. Now happily married to village restaurant owner, Robert Hart, all seems set for a quiet autumn and merry Christmas. But strangers have bought the local guest house and seem to have big plans. Why is he so charming and confident, but she so frightened? Are they who they say they are? And what are they really doing with the guest house?
For my brother, James Burstall, with love and thanks
Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk.
– Susan Scarf Merrell
Do nothing secretly; for Time sees and hears all things, and discloses all.
– Sophocles, Hipponous, fragment 280
1. Jack’s Cottage (Loveday and Jesse’s Place)
2. The Victory Inn
3. Children’s Play Park
4. Ebb Tide (Tony’s Place)
5. The Nook (Pat’s Place)
6. Dove Cottage (Liz’s Place)
7. Shell Cottage
8. Bag End (Valerie’s Place)
9. The Methodist Church
10. Copper Cottage
11. Dolly’s Place
12. Dynnargh (Jean and Tom’s Place)
13. The Stables
14. The Hole in the Wall Pub
15. The Fishmonger
16. The Marketplace
17. The Bakery
18. General Store
19. Boutique Shop
20. Gull Cottage (Jenny and John’s Place)
21. Off Licence
22. A Winkle in Time
23. Sideways Cottage (Ruby and Victor’s Place)
24. Treasure Trove
25. Public Loos
26. The Lobster Pot
27. The Fishing Tackle Shop
28. Ashley House (Charlotte and Todd’s Place)
29. Tremarnock Beach
30. The Harbour
The radio came on at seven as usual and Hazel lay in bed, eyes closed, only half listening to the random mix of news, music and jokey banter. At moments like this, she could almost fancy herself back in the family home, when her children had still been of the age when they’d bounce up the moment they woke, not yet having morphed into grumpy teenagers.
She’d hear them messing around, laughing and shouting, sometimes wailing because one or other had overstepped the mark, so that she’d have to get up herself and pad next door to sort out the argument.
She used to grumble that they never allowed her a moment’s peace, but what she’d give now to be hurrying downstairs to make them breakfast. ‘Chop chop,’ she’d call, ‘or you’ll be late for school.’
Lights on, if it was still dark outside, kettle on, the rattle of knives, forks and spoons in the cutlery drawer, the smell of toast. The kids crashing in; they always made such a racket, slurping down glasses of juice or mugs of tea, racing out again to clean teeth, put on coats and pick up bags in the hall.
‘See you at three thirty!’ she’d say, pausing a moment to take each precious head in turn between her two hands and plant a kiss on top. Once they’d vanished, she’d go back inside to clear up the mess of cereal, spilled milk, crumbs and sticky jam, wondering what to do for tea, thinking that she’d better get her skates on or she’d be late for work herself.
Now it was just her and her four walls. If it weren’t for the radio, the silence would deafen her.
She reached for her glasses on the bedside table by the clock-radio and heaved herself up to sitting. She had been useful back then. Hadn’t needed to question why she was here, what for. Her purpose had been to look after Jackie and Roy, do the right thing by them, and be a good wife to Barry, of course.
But he was gone and the children had families of their own. Even the grandchildren were grown up. Nobody needed her, not really. If she stayed in bed all day it wouldn’t make a difference.
She sighed. It was no good thinking like that. No good at all. Besides, Jackie might pop in on her way back from work and she’d be horrified to find Mum in her nightclothes. She’d probably threaten to call the doctor, bring up the dreaded subject of sheltered housing, care homes, even. Heaven forbid.
Swinging her legs carefully over the side of the bed, she slid her feet into the cream-coloured slippers that were exactly where she’d left them the previous night. Then she pushed herself up, using the table to help, grabbed her dressing gown from the back of the chair and shuffled to the window that overlooked Mount Pleasant Road, opening it just a couple of inches.
She always enjoyed that first glimpse of the new day. In the old house, she’d step into the garden and sort of sniff the air. It used to make Barry laugh. He’d say she was like a dog scenting food but that wasn’t what she’d been after – she’d been searching for clues.
‘Clues for what?’ he’d ask, feigning ignorance.
‘The weather,’ she’d reply, topping up the birdbath with water from an empty milk bottle. ‘See if I need my brolly. Flowers smell best before rain and if my hair frizzes up, there’s a storm coming.’
They’d sold the house when the children left and since then she’d had to content herself with poking her nose out of the window. Today, she caught the faint whiff of autumn, decaying leaves and damp pavement, then a sudden gust made her shiver so she closed the window again quickly. Well, it was the beginning of October. What did you expect?
The man from a few doors down left the house in his suit and opened his car. He was staring at the pavement and didn’t look up once. He was an estate agent, she knew that much. His pretty young wife had told her. Neither of them were talkers, though. Too busy with their own lives for idle chit-chat.
She watched the man drive off before padding down the narrow corridor into the little kitchen. A cuppa would sort her out. She had a hand on the tap, ready to fill the kettle, when the phone rang, nearly making her jump out of her skin.
‘Whoever is it?’ she wondered out loud. Hardly anyone phoned these days, only Jackie or Annie. She was a good girl, Annie, thoughtful. Nice boyfriend, too. Maybe there’d be wedding bells soon.
An announcement? Hazel’s tummy fluttered, then she checked herself. Annie would be teaching one of her peculiar fitness classes, Zumba, or whatever it was called, and Jackie would be on her way to work. She’d only call in an emergency.
Frightened suddenly, Hazel hurried into the front room and picked up the receiver.
‘Can I speak to Mrs Clothier, please?’
It was a man’s voice, quite posh. Not Jackie, then. No crisis. Hazel felt her shoulders relax and she cleared her throat, instinctively reaching up to smooth her tousled grey-white hair.
‘May I help you?’ she replied, in the manner she’d once used for wealthy ladies who came into the shop to try on the expensive leather shoes and boots. He was probably after selling something, too.
‘It’s Detective Constable Harry Pritchard from the Metropolitan Police,’ the voice came back. ‘No cause for alarm. People think we only call if someone’s died or they’ve done something wrong. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like that.’
He had a nice tone, easy and friendly. Quite young. Relieved, Hazel found herself nodding, even though he couldn’t see her. She was remembering when her friend Doreen had got a call to say her son had been killed in a motorbike crash. Terrible business.
‘It must be difficult doing your job,’ she commented, almost to herself.
‘Yes, but rewarding, too. I always wanted to be in the police, ever since I was a small boy. That, or a train driver.’
He chuckled and Hazel found herself joining in. ‘My son, Roy, wanted to be a deep-sea diver.’ She settled in her armchair and stuffed the cushion into the small of her back. ‘He had one of those Action Man toys with flippers and a breathing tank. He used to play with it in the bath. Seems funny now, seeing as he repairs boilers.’
The next thing she knew, she was telling him about Jackie, too, and Barry, God rest his soul. Born and bred in Devon, just like her. Worked all his life at Malcolm’s Motors. To be honest, it was nice to have someone to talk to.
‘How long were you married?’ DC Pritchard asked. He didn’t seem in any hurry.
‘Over fifty years.’
The policeman whistled. ‘That’s a long time.’
‘“More than a life sentence,” Barry used to say.’
‘You must miss him.’
There was a pause and she was about to tell him just how much. Then she remembered that he’d called for a reason; he didn’t have all day.
‘Sorry, my daughter ticks me off for wittering on.’
DC Pritchard cleared his throat. ‘Actually, I’ve got something rather important to ask you. I’d appreciate your help.’
Help? Her? For once Hazel was lost for words.
She listened in amazement as he described how there might be fraudulent activity at her bank, an inside job. It seemed that a member or members of staff had been stealing large sums from customers’ accounts, though luckily hers hadn’t yet been touched.
When he finished Hazel gasped: ‘How dreadful!’ She was constantly astounded by people nowadays, didn’t know where all the decent, honest folk had gone.
‘It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?’ the policeman agreed, before explaining that he wanted her to visit her bank this very morning and draw out ten thousand pounds. She wasn’t to tell anyone, though, because it could jeopardise the investigation. If a bank clerk queried the amount, she was to say it was for building work.
When she returned, she was to put the money in an unmarked envelope and a plainclothes officer would arrive to collect it. Back at the station, they’d examine the notes forensically to check if they were counterfeit and return the money to her the following day.