Authors: Roger Keevil
Tags: #Roger Keevil, #9781780889474, #Feted to Die
FÊTED TO DIE
An Inspector Constable murder mystery
Copyright © 2012 Roger Keevil
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study,
or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the
publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with
the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries
concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Typeset in 11pt Adobe Garamond Pro by Troubador Publishing Ltd, Leicester, UK
is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
To Christopher, my inspiration
great a cloud of witnesses”
‘Fêted To Die’ is a work of fiction and wholly the product of the imagination of the author. All persons, events, locations and
organisations are entirely fictitious, and are not intended to resemble in any way any actual persons living or dead, events, locations or organisations. Any such resemblance is entirely coincidental,
and is wholly in the mind of the reader.
As if you didn’t know.
“Who is it, darling?” floated a voice from the stairs.
“No, this is Seymour Cummings.” A pause. “Hold on … Sandra, it’s Gideon Porter for you.”
“On my way.” Lady Lawdown swept into the drawing room. “Honestly, it
isn’t as if I didn’t have enough to do today.” She took the proffered handset. “Yes, Gideon, what can I do for you? … Yes, the contractors finished putting it up yesterday evening, so it’s all ready for you to bring everything up to the Hall tomorrow. … Of course I have the licence here. My friends on the bench aren’t likely to refuse a fellow J.P., are they? Now for goodness sake, stop fussing, Gideon. Just put your beer barrels on your little lorry, and we’ll see you in the morning. Yes … goodbye.”
“What was that all about?”
“Oh, Seymour, with all your talents, don’t tell me you can’t guess.”
“I shall treat that remark with the contempt it deserves.”
“Sorry, darling, but I couldn’t resist it. No, Gideon was flapping about the beer tent. I honestly have no idea why I put myself through this every year. It’s wearing me to an absolute frazzle.”
Lady Lawdown’s appearance belied her words. A tall elegant woman in her fifties, with immaculate pale blonde hair and a perfect complexion enhanced with the subtlest make-up, long slim hands with beautifully manicured nails, and wearing a silk summer dress in a bold poppy print, she had the air of a duchess who expected royalty to drop in for tea at any moment, and who was not remotely fussed at the prospect.
Seymour Cummings laughed. “Sandra, you’re a terrible liar and you know it. You absolutely love the annual fete – it gives you the perfect chance to queen it over the entire county, especially since Peter died. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if that isn’t why you married him in the first place.”
“Seymour, that’s a horrid thing to say,” retorted Lady Lawdown. “I swear you make these things up just to annoy me. I’ve a good mind to phone your editor and tell him that you’re a complete fraud, and that you invent all those things you put in your column.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Sandra, I was only joking.” Seymour sounded quite rattled. “Please don’t do anything like that …”
“Mummy, where are you?” came a voice from the hall.
“In here, darling.”
Nobody seeing Laura Biding and Lady Lawdown together could doubt that they were mother and daughter. Mid-twenties, slightly shorter than her mother but with the same blonde colouring, Laura wore riding boots, jeans, and a t-shirt as if she belonged on the cover of a fashion magazine. On which, on one memorable occasion, she had appeared, as one of the featured subjects of a lead article about Daughters of the Aristocracy.
“I just wanted to let you know that Amelia Cook has arrived, Mummy. She’s dropping some things off for tomorrow. I’m just going to unlock the kitchen door so she can bring all her food and equipment straight through. Now, is there anything else you need me to do?”
“Darling, you’re an absolute treasure, isn’t she, Seymour? I have no idea how on earth I’d manage if it weren’t for you. She’s done all the posters, and she’s persuaded the Vicar to open the fete, and she’s arranged all the attractions. Go on, darling – tell Seymour what you’ve organised.”
Laura looked faintly embarrassed. “Honestly, Mummy, it really isn’t anything special – mostly just the usual things, like the tombola and the white elephant stall and the children’s races. Oh, and we’ve got Splat the Rat this year.”
“Splat the Rat?” Seymour sounded baffled. “What on earth is that?”
“Oh, that one’s great fun,” explained Laura. “You have a length of drainpipe sloping down at an angle, and then the player waits at the bottom with an old cricket bat, and then you make a sort of big sausage out of rags and soak it in beer – that’s the Rat – and you put it in the top of the pipe and the player tries to splat it as it comes out at the bottom.”
“Hmm, I really must have a go at that,” replied Seymour, not sounding totally convinced. “And speaking of rats, I dare say you’ve got Horace Cope coming yet again to put his two-pennyworth in.”
“Oh please, Seymour, not again,” pleaded Lady Lawdown.
Laura sat down next to Seymour on the sofa. “Now Seymour, please don’t be horrid to Uncle Horace. You know he’s always done the fortune-telling, ever since I can remember. It’s a village tradition. And anyway, it’s only a bit of harmless fun.”
“The day Horace Cope becomes harmless is the day I give up the predicting business,” snorted Seymour, “and goodness only knows when that will be. I just wish somebody would splat this particular rat.”
“This is all because you’re up against each other for the new TV show,” said Lady Lawdown, “but I’m sure you don’t really have anything to worry about. You’re so much better on television than Horace. So can you please try not to upset him, just this once?”
“Yes, well, you don’t know the whole story,” replied Seymour.
“How do you mean? What’s he done?”
Seymour waved a hand. “Don’t worry about it, Sandra – it’s nothing really. Look, as a favour to you, I’ll try to be nice to him. Anyway, where are you putting him this year?”
“Laura had a brilliant idea for that. We’ve put his booth in the Secret Garden – you know, that little walled garden off the West Terrace. It’s completely private so people can’t crowd round and eavesdrop, and there’s a gate in the wall which leads out into the Park, so we can keep it locked until the fete opens.”
“And who is the old fool going to be this year?”
“Oh, now that was my idea.” Lady Lawdown sounded quite pleased with herself. “He’s going to be “Swami Rami, Mystic Seer of the Future”. Isn’t that a hoot?”
“Oh blast!” interjected Laura. “I haven’t taken his sign round to the Park. I must do that, or nobody will be able to find him.”
“Take it out through the side door,” suggested Lady Lawdown. “No point in going all the way round. Do you want my gate key?”
“No, I’ll take the one from the flower room.”
“While you’re at it, darling, do go round and check that it’s all set up for Gideon at the beer tent. He phoned up just now, so I expect he’ll come rushing up from the pub, and you’ll probably have to hold his hand.”
“Right, I’m off. And don’t worry about a thing, Mummy. Everything is under control, and we’re going to raise lots of lovely money.”
“I do hope so, darling,” replied Lady Lawdown with a slightly gloomy air. “I do hope so.”
Although the entire village had been preparing for the annual Dammett Worthy Garden Fete for weeks, the day before the fete always saw the most hectic activity. If anything in Dammett Worthy could ever be called hectic.
Helen Highwater made her way from her cottage in Galley Alley towards the High Street for her usual morning coffee at the Copper Kettle Tearooms. Helen was an unremarkable-looking middle-aged woman with faded grey hair – to look at her, nobody would have suspected that she was one of Dammett Worthy’s more celebrated residents, and probably the richest woman in the county. As the author of moderately successful children’s books featuring badly-behaved field-mice having unexacting adventures on fairly dull farms, nobody could have been more surprised than Helen at the sudden and unexpected success of her story about a schoolgirl magician. But for some reason, “Carrie Otter and the Photographer’s Stain” had seized the imagination of a generation of children, and had led to a degree of fame, and a level of income, which had quite taken her breath away. The latest in the series, “Carrie Otter and the Half-Boiled Pants”, had even been nominated for both the Tomer Prize and the Brownbread Award, although not all the snootier critics approved of her populist style of writing, and some of the press had been downright dismissive. However, whenever anybody mentioned this to Helen, she gave her usual bright smile and shrugged off the comments. “Just wait until the last book comes out,” she would say. “You can all make up your minds then.” And the world did not have long to wait. The publicity machine for the launch of the final book in the series was in top gear for publication the following month.
Helen passed the premises of the local funeral directors, Solomon Binding (Undertaking), and turned in through the door of the Copper Kettle, just in time to see Amelia Cook disappearing through into the kitchen in a blur of flowered apron.
“Good morning, Amelia!” called Helen.
“Oh, morning, Helen. Be with you in a second, dear. Just getting a batch of scones out. There! Now, coffee and a cake, is it? I made a lovely Devil’s Food Cake yesterday, and I gave the vicar a slice, and he said how nice it was, and then I told him what it was called, and the poor man nearly choked on it. So what do you think?”
“That would be lovely, Amelia.”
“Well, you sit down by the window, dear, and I’ll bring it over. Would you like the paper to look at? Oh, bother, I forgot – that dratted boy from the paper-shop missed me out this morning, and I haven’t had a second to go over and get it. I’ve got yesterday’s Evening Sin, if that’s any good to you. You can read Horace’s predictions for today. Oh, no, I forgot – you’re not a big fan, are you?”
And in her usual flustered way which seemed completely at odds with her well-deserved reputation as the best cook for miles around, Amelia bustled about to bring Helen her order, and sat down in the chair opposite her.
“Are you all set for tomorrow?” she asked. “Ready to meet more of your adoring public?”
“Well, anything to help Sandra out a bit, I suppose,” replied Helen, “although it’s not really so much to sit at a table and sign books for an hour at a fiver a signature. But I do get nervous. Silly, isn’t it? But you’ll be up at the Hall as well, won’t you? Didn’t Sandra say you were doing the tea tent as usual?”
“Oh, don’t remind me!” groaned Amelia. “Why on earth I say I’ll do it I don’t know. But there’ll be nobody in the village tomorrow afternoon because they’ll all be up at the fete, so I might as well close anyway. I can’t move in my pantry for cakes already, and I’ve only got half of them done. And I’ll have to finish everything at the last minute, or else things go stale. I wonder if I could get Mrs. Richards to help me after she’s finished the cleaning at the Hall in the morning? Oh, I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. But, as you say, it’s all for Sandra. You can never say no to her, can you? It’s the church roof this year, isn’t it? Well, must get on. Maids of Honour next!”