Murder At The Bake Off (Celebrity Mysteries 3) (9 page)

BOOK: Murder At The Bake Off (Celebrity Mysteries 3)
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“I won’t be there much,” Jack says. “I’m working all hours and if I’m not working, I’m usually up at Eskdale myself. You’d be better off staying there.”

“So, if I stayed at your home, I’d be there alone most of the time?”

“Yes,” Jack and I both chorus.

She shrugs, disappointment in her eyes. “Very well. Then I’ll stay at this Eskdale place instead.”

“It might be worth leaving your car here in town, to be on the safe side,” Jack suggests. “Then we’ll drive you to Eskdale, so there’s no trail. It’s just a precaution. I’m sure there isn’t somebody out there gunning for Delamere Baking Festival judges.”

“You’d better hope not,” she says, swanning past us and heading for the door.

Oh, boy. The next few days are going to test my patience big time. Petula Musgrove is not going to be a model houseguest.

CHAPTER TEN

I’ve settled Petula into the one and only decent guest bedroom—the other rooms still desperately need a good decorate through. She’s still upstairs unpacking as we take a well-earned five-minute break with two giant mugs of coffee, needing the extra caffeine to sustain us through the rest of this day. There’s a knock at the door, and Jack is instantly in work mode, on full alert. My mind switches into overdrive. Is there a baking judge assassin lurking out there in the Cumbrian countryside? Has that person been watching Petula since she arrived and spotted her leaving the village hall with us? Have they followed us up here?

“I’ll get it,” Jack says, heading for the door.

“Mr. Mathis, we were told by your next door neighbour that we’d probably find you here.”

I recognise that voice. It’s Mark, one of the local policemen. My heart sinks. Why is he looking for Jack? I get up and walk cautiously over to the door.

“Miss Carter,” he says, dipping his head slightly in acknowledgement. “Sorry about the home visit.”

“What did you want me for?” Jack asks him. “Is it in connection with the Bakewell case?”

“Yes. It is. I need to ask you to accompany me down to the police station. We have some further questions for you.”

My stomach tumbles and my mouth goes dry at the memory of when the police arrived almost two years ago and said pretty much the same thing to me. I was a suspect in the murder of my former celebrity chef boss, Armand. I remember feeling sick with worry as they drove me down the bumpy track from Eskdale on the way to the police station. Now, the same thing is happening to my poor Jack. Do they seriously think a former special agent who runs his own security and investigations business, and whose focus is to keep people safe, would murder the Queen of Baking with a poisoned cupcake?

This is beyond ridiculous. I open my mouth to say so, but Jack gently places a hand on my arm.

“It’s fine, Lizzie. I’ve got nothing to hide. I’ll go and get this sorted and be home before you know it.” He plants a kiss on my lips, then adds, “Sorry to leave you with…” He raises his eyes to the ceiling, silently indicating my ungracious house guest.

I squeeze his hand. “Don’t worry about that. Give me a call when you need picking up, OK?”

“I’m not dragging you out to collect me. You’ve got enough on as it is. I’ll make other arrangements.” He gives me another quick kiss. “See you later.”

Fighting tears, I dump the rest of my mug of coffee in the sink and am tidying up on the pine kitchen table when I spot Jack’s notebook. We’d been going over the case stuff so far and agreeing that up to now the finger of suspicion seems to be firmly pointing at Maggie and Rudy Metcalfe. Reaching for the book, I flick through the notes again.

How long will they keep Jack down at the station for questioning? They can’t detain him for too long; they have no reason to. The fact they’re hauling him in for another interview suggests their investigation so far hasn’t turned up many, if any, other suspects. I wonder if they have the Metcalfes on their list to warrant further investigation. Then I notice the scribbled note in the book about Simone Barker, the woman who claimed Cherry had stolen her recipes. The note includes what I assume to be her address over in Witherby, a tourism and fishing town on the Yorkshire coast I know quite well from childhood holidays. The details also include today’s date, followed by a time—two o’clock this afternoon. Had Jack arranged to go and meet with Simone today? It certainly looks like it. There’s no phone number, though, so I can’t phone to cancel on his behalf.

My fingers are absently tapping against the table top as I wonder how long it would take me to drive over there and meet with Simone in Jack’s place. A couple of hours, probably. My eyes flick towards the clock. I’d have enough time. Will the police release Jack in time for him to take the meeting himself? We really need to find out who is behind Cherry’s murder as fast as possible, preferably before the big bake-off festival competition, just in case the killer is looking to strike again, this time with Petula. In that second, I decide to take the meeting for Jack. I’ve been with him on a few investigations now, so I know how these things work. Besides, it’s just a harmless chat with one of Cherry’s old friends. I can easily handle that. I grab Daisy’s keys and race to the bottom of the stairs to let Petula know I’m popping out.

“Fine,” she says from the top of the stairs, with a wave of her hands as though shooing away a cat. “I’ll stay here with Jack.”

“Jack’s not here. The police called ten minutes ago and asked him to go to the station with them again.”

“Where are you going?” she demands, walking down the steps towards me. “I was under the impression I am not to be left alone, as a security precaution. I’ll have to come with you.”

Sugar. I turn away and count to ten, determined to stay calm. She appears next to me. “So, where are we going then, Elizabeth?”

For some reason she’s taken to calling me Elizabeth, rather than Lizzie. Nobody calls me Elizabeth, not even my mother.

I paste on a smile. “Fancy a trip to the seaside?”

 

Witherby is even prettier than I remember it. On this dull February day, the rain-washed streets are quiet save the seagulls parading up and down the promenade, checking for any scraps of food dropped by customers of the nearby eat-in and take-out fish and chip shops.

Thankfully, Petula slept all the way over here, but as I manoeuvre Daisy into a parking space, she stirs and sits up. “Are we here?”

“Yes, this is Witherby. Lovely, isn’t it? Can’t you smell the bracing sea air?”

Petula pulls a face and flips the sun visor down above the passenger seat to check her makeup is still presentable after her nap. “All I can smell is fish and chips and boat diesel.”

Hmm. Petula is definitely a glass-half-empty rather than half-full kind of person, isn’t she? “Do you want to have a wander around the town? Check out the craft shops and galleries? The area is famous for black jet stone jewellery if you fancy treating yourself.”

“I don’t wear black. I find the colour draining on my complexion. I very much doubt shops in a place like this could be selling anything I would wish to buy, anyway.” She finishes her makeup inspection and snaps the visor back into place. “I’ll come with you to see this Simone woman.” She snorts derisively. “As if Cherry would ever steal a recipe from this unknown. Cherry, God rest her soul, was the queen of the world when it came to baking. She would never stoop so low as to have to pinch ideas from
normal
people.”

“All of this happened long before Cherry was famous,” I say, almost under my breath, as I climb out of Daisy.

“Even so,” Petula snaps.

I clearly didn’t mutter under my breath quietly enough.

“You’re wasting your time if you think this Simone woman has anything useful to say,” she continues. “It will all be lies and false allegations. Just an old friend who feels snubbed and now wants a bit of the limelight, trading on Cherry’s name. I’ve had loads of that sort of thing happen to me over the years. It’s all very sad and tawdry. Now, where does this Simone person live?”

“Just across the road, up those steps.” I point to where a seemingly never-ending curve of steps disappears from the road above the harbour, snaking up the hill between rows of red-roofed cottages.

“Up there?” Petula asks, clearly not happy about traipsing up the hill on a blustery February day. “Isn’t there an easier way?”

“Afraid not. Let’s get going, shall we?”

Much to my grumbling companion’s relief, the house we are looking for is on the first row of cottages we come to, just off the steps. I knock on the door of number three and it’s opened by a dark-haired woman around Cherry’s age. “Simone?” I ask.

She nods and then looks from me to Petula. “I was looking for a man.”

“Aren’t we all, dear?” Petula snips.

“Sorry, Jack, was, er, unavoidably detained,” I explain as she ushers us inside the cottage. As soon as we’re though the doorway, we’re in a cosy living room with a wood fire roaring away and ceiling beams so low even I have to duck.

“Oh, I see. That’s a shame.” Simone looks me up and down. “And you are?”

I offer a hand to shake. “I’m Lizzie, his partner.”

“Business partner?” she quizzes, eyeing me warily.

“That’s right,” I fib. The more I get involved in helping Jack with investigations, the more adept I seem to be getting at letting lies trip off my tongue. It’s quite worrying.

I start to introduce Petula. “And this is…”

“I’m well aware who this is,” Simone says, a disapproving look on her face. “Cherry’s fierce baking rival, Petula Musgrove.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” Petula replies sarcastically, taking off her coat and sitting on the sofa next to the fire uninvited. “And as for this rubbish about Cherry ever stealing recipes from you, what tosh. You just wanted to take your fifteen minutes of fame, courtesy of bad-mouthing your old friend. I’ve seen it all before.”

“How dare you?” Simone replies indignantly.

I sigh. I don’t have time for this bickering. Needing to steer the conversation back onto finding out if there’s any merit to Simone’s claims, and whether it was worth driving all the way over here on Jack’s behalf to try and push this investigation along, I ask, “So, did you and Cherry fall out? All those years ago?”

Simone gestures for me to sit down and takes a seat next to me. “We fell out many a time, dear. Mostly over boys! We used to run the Seagull Café together. We were young. This place had more than its fair share of handsome young fellas, let me tell you—the boys working on the fishing boats as well as the tourists.”

“Did you compete over anything other than boys? Like baking, maybe?”

“At that time, there was no competition. I was hands-down the best cook and baker between the two of us. Cherry had a gift, admittedly, but she didn’t apply herself at that age. She only wanted to work in the café to earn money to go and have fun. It was I who loved the baking and used to stay late, after we were all closed up for the day, to use the kitchen at the café to try out my own recipes. Cassandra, the owner of the café, used to say I was the best baker she’d ever come across. She encouraged me to bake all kinds of things, and they always used to sell out. When she passed away, I thought the café would be left to me, as she once told me it would be. But when the estate was finally all settled, her son and daughter had inherited the café, half each. They immediately sold it, of course. Neither of them were interested in carrying on the Seagull, they just wanted the money from the sale of the premises. It’s a fish and chip shop nowadays. Anyway, she left me all her old recipe books, so that was something. I treasure them to this day.”

“Did you ever pursue baking?” I ask, frantically writing all of this down so that I don’t forget to tell Jack every little detail of the conversation.

“It was my dream to, but I married young—one of those handsome fishermen—and we started a family soon after that. I baked for my family and for charity and the Women’s Institute events, but that was all. I suppose I lived vicariously, following Cherry’s career with, I admit, a bit of jealousy. I loved my family, though, so I happily accepted that was my lot.” She shrugs elegantly. “Simone Barker was never destined to be a baking legend or to be famous.”

“You must have been angry when you realised she’d used some of your recipes in her book without crediting them to you,” I say, pen poised once more over the paper.

She nods. “Oh, yes, I was furious.”

“And that’s why you decided to go to the press about it all.”

“No.” She shakes her head, looking thoughtful. “I was angry, but I didn’t want to cause Cherry any problems. And anyway what use would it have been to me to go shouting and ranting in the newspapers? I don’t want all of that hassle.”

I frown. “And yet you went ahead and did it anyway. Why was that?”

“My daughter talked me into it. She’s a bit hotheaded, and she insisted I should rightfully and publicly be acknowledged as the creator of the recipes. It never turned out that way, though. I didn’t have any proof the recipes were mine. I didn’t have the originals, you see. We never had much money, so our family home was tiny. When you’ve got children, they take up so much room, you know? In one of my many clear-outs, I threw away my old diary and recipe books. I did keep the ones from my old café boss, out of respect and memories. Without proof, the argument fell flat, and that was that.”

“Where’s your daughter now? Does she live locally?”

“Oh, goodness me. No, dear. She’s a driven little madam—wanted a high-flying career. She moved to London. Works at a publisher as an editor.”

I drop my pen. “She what?” That cannot be a coincidence. No way. “What’s your daughter’s name?” I ask, just to properly connect the dots and be sure of what I’m hearing.

“Carla,” Simone replies proudly. “Funnily enough, she worked for Cherry’s first publisher, and then, when they were bought out by one of the big companies, she was made redundant—but Carla wasn’t having that. She got herself a new job with the new publisher and ended up working on Cherry’s books again. Small world, isn’t it?”

It can be, but, on this occasion, I have an idea that the haughty and intimidating Carla Michaels we spoke to in London had planned this all out very carefully. Was she the one out for revenge on behalf of her mother? Did she murder Cherry? OK, I must stay calm. What would Jack do in these circumstances? As if thinking about him has somehow conjured him up, my phone rings, and it’s Jack’s handsome face smiling at me from the screen. Perfect.

BOOK: Murder At The Bake Off (Celebrity Mysteries 3)
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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