Murder at the Lighthouse: An Exham on Sea Cosy Mystery (Exham on Sea Cosy Crime Mysteries Book 1)

BOOK: Murder at the Lighthouse: An Exham on Sea Cosy Mystery (Exham on Sea Cosy Crime Mysteries Book 1)
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Contents

Under the Lighthouse

Coffee and Cake

Robert's Discovery

Fuzzy’s Disgrace

The Bakery

Coffee and Suspicion

Dinner

Nest Egg

Walnut brownies

Annie Rose

Photographs

Bear Walk

Mangotsfield Hall

Mandy

Breaking and Entering

Bear’s Adventure

Guy

James

Cheese

Mushroom Sauce

Chicken and Chips

The Other Lighthouse

The Knoll

Diary

Rubbish

Balancing the Books

Funeral

Wake

Ancestors

Max

Thank you for reading

Murder on the Levels

The Exham on Sea Mysteries

Frances Evesham Books

Victorian Books

Author's Note

Under the Lighthouse

The autumn high tide discarded Susie Bennett under the lighthouse, on the beach she’d avoided for twenty years.

Miles of sand stretched on either side, bleak and deserted except for Susie, dog-walker Elizabeth Forest, and a springer spaniel called Shipley. Elizabeth shivered. She should have brought a thicker coat. She tugged the hood further down, against the wind that snapped strands of wet brown hair across her face.

“What’s that?” She freed the dog from his lead and squinted ahead. Shipley barked, whiskers quivering, head pointing across the sand, towards the nine stumpy legs of the lighthouse. “Probably just an old sack washed up on the tide. Still, we’d better take a closer look.” Sand clumped on Libby’s boots. Closer to the lighthouse, where the mud sucked and tugged at the unwary, she picked her way with care, testing every step.

This was no old sack. Shipley nudged Libby’s legs and licked her hand, his tongue warm and soft. She rubbed the dog’s ears. “It’s just a drunk, I think.” The drunk’s jacket offered less protection against the weather than Libby’s anorak. “We’d better wake him.” She braced herself for a mouthful of abuse as the sleeping drunk woke, and shook one of the leather-clad arms.

The figure slid noiselessly to the sand. The spaniel nosed it, whining. “Quiet, Shipley.” Libby squatted beside the body, brushed sopping wet hair from the icy cheek, and searched the neck for a pulse. She knew from the hollow sensation in her stomach what she would find. “It’s a woman.” Shipley howled. Libby staggered up, legs trembling. “What’s more, she’s dead.”

They were still alone on the beach, the only walkers to brave the morning’s weather. Libby shivered. “We’d better tell the police.” She tugged a mobile phone from an inside pocket and fumbled, jabbing at the numbers.

“Hello, do you need fire, police or ambulance?”

This was only the second corpse Libby had seen. The first, belonging to Trevor, had been laid out at the hospital, triggering a mix of horror and guilty relief.

There was nothing she could do for this woman. Who could it be? A local? No one Libby recognised, but then, she hardly knew anyone: just Marina, Shipley’s owner; Frank, the proprietor of the bakery where she worked; and a dozen members of the local history society.

Slim and tiny, the dead woman wore skin-tight jeans. A brown ankle boot encased one foot, but the other was bare, the expensive footwear long gone. The woman’s lips were fuller than nature intended. Cosmetic work in the recent past? Drenched hair half-concealed a small, neat face with a turned-up nose. A line of darker hair, along a parting on the side of the head, suggested highlights; a proper salon job, not a do-it-yourself.

Libby peered into the pools of water left stranded under the lighthouse, looking for a handbag, hoping for clues, but the sea had taken that as well.

I shouldn’t touch the body again.
Libby knew the rules: everyone did.
Don’t disturb the scene
. They were still alone. She ought to wait for the police to arrive, but something about the woman’s arm, tucked at such an awkward angle into a jacket pocket, nagged at Libby. It wouldn’t do any harm just to give it another small nudge, surely?

She twitched the sleeve. The arm jerked. Libby gulped, then took a slow breath. It was just rigor mortis. She pulled again, harder. The stiff hand popped out of the pocket, rigid, fingers pointing to the bleak, wide Somerset sky, and a chunk of plastic tumbled from the jacket. Libby whispered, “Sorry,” as though the dead woman could still hear.

The sudden, shocking wail of police sirens brought an officer, younger than her own son, running down the beach. Libby held out one hand, as if to protect the body. “Be careful.”

The young, plainclothes officer raised an eyebrow above intense blue eyes and waved an ID card under Libby’s nose. “Detective Sergeant Ramshore. Step over there and leave it to us, now, please, madam.”

A policewoman in uniform escorted Libby from the beach, leaving the blonde, dead stranger forlorn, a small, plastic ring with a pink stone tumbled beside her on the sand.

 

Coffee and Cake

“There’s no reason to cancel the meeting.” Marina folded her arms, enclosed in the purple sleeves of a wafty silk caftan, across an ample chest. “The police said they’d keep you informed. They’ll let you know what they find out.”

“Yes, but…” Libby wasn’t confident the young officer would bother.

“No, listen to me.” Marina was not the newly retired deputy head of the local primary school for nothing. She understood command. “You need a distraction, Libby, or else you’ll worry. I know you.”

Libby bit back a reply. Marina, leading light of the WI, the music society, the food fair and the local history society, assumed the town’s new arrival couldn’t make the smallest decision for herself. She’d taken the unsuspecting Libby under her wing and somehow talked her into providing cake for the history society meetings. “Everyone’s sure to love it, dear, and they’ll all buy your book.”

“Hmm. If I ever finish it.”

Marina waved away such nonsense. Writing a book about celebration cakes, full of photographs, must be the easiest way possible to make a living. “Anyway, you can practice on us.” Libby duly supplied a different, elaborate confection for each meeting. She had to stand on her own feet, now her husband was dead, and she needed all the publicity she could get.

Marina sampled a slice of today’s contribution, a pineapple and coconut upside-down cake with a cream cheese frosting. “Mmm. Delicious. Best yet.” The doorbell rang. “There you are.” She beamed. “It’s too late to cancel, now. Angela’s here.”

Soon, Marina’s grand drawing room was full. “Quite a turn-out,” Angela Miles murmured in Libby’s ear. “Almost everyone’s braved the rain, today. News travels fast. Good heavens, even Samantha’s gracing us with her presence.”

Samantha Watson folded a pair of long legs, sheer black tights hissing as she smoothed a tight pencil skirt over shapely knees. She enjoyed a carefully-constructed reputation as the town’s intellectual: a solicitor, she regularly completed the Telegraph crossword. She allowed very few social occasions to take up her valuable time, but today, she’d made an exception. “One of my clients has cancelled her appointment, so I’ve just popped in for a minute.” Samantha smiled, doing the society a favour. “Such a shame, another tragedy on the beach. More visitors stuck in the mud, I suppose.”

Allowing Marina to place a slice of cake on her plate, she cut it neatly into tiny squares and popped them, one after another, into a lipsticked mouth, her little pink tongue flicking out to chase stray crumbs. “Quite nice,” she pronounced. She allowed her gaze to fall on Libby. “I hear you found the body?”

Libby had no chance to answer, for Marina’s excitement overflowed. “Such a shock, finding a body. Honestly, it gave me palpitations, just hearing about it. You must just be in
pieces
, Libby dear.” Her voice sunk to a dramatic whisper. “Imagine, a dead body, lying there all night, out on the beach, in such dreadful weather.”

Samantha cleared her throat, to focus attention back on herself. “I spoke to Chief Inspector Arnold.”

Libby frowned, puzzled. Angela murmured, “That’s why she’s come, of course. To tell us she’s in the know.” Angela winked. “Samantha hears all Arnold’s secrets.” She whispered. “Pillow talk.” Libby swallowed a splutter of laughter. She knew Samantha married her handsome, rather dim husband, Ned the local builder, when they were still in their teens.

Angela went on, “Ned came from the old family that used to own the Hall. One of his ancestors was the earl, but the title died out years ago and the family sold up. You don’t often see Ned and Samantha together, these days.”

Samantha, smiled from one expectant face to another. “Stephen, I mean, Chief Inspector Arnold, of course, told me the woman is Susie Bennett.”

Marina’s jaw dropped. “No. Not Susie?”

Samantha beamed, smug mouth curved in a complacent smile. “That’s right, Susie Bennett, the folk singer―or rock singer, was it?” She shrugged elegant, cashmere-clad shoulders. “The Susie Bennett who used to go to school with some of us.” She let her eyes rest on Libby, who was never at school with “us.” “The Chief Inspector says she committed suicide.”

Seriously? He’s already decided?
Libby pressed her lips together and kept her thoughts to herself.

Everyone in the room seemed to have known the dead woman. Marina gasped. “Oh good gracious me. Susie Bennett! She hasn’t been back for years. Whatever was she doing here?”

Angela set down her cup of tea. “Libby, dear, Susie is Exham on Sea’s most famous export. She went to the United States and sold millions of records, back in the 80s. She was in a band called Angel’s Kiss. I remember, because my name’s Angela. Actually, Angel’s Kiss was a cocktail, I believe.”

Marina interrupted. “I remember one of their albums. It came with a drinking straw attached to the cover, I think. That lovely song, ‘What’s In a Name,’ was one of the tracks. Susie played the guitar and sang, and there was Guy with a violin and another boy―what was his name, now? Oh yes, James. He was on keyboards.”

Samantha fiddled with her pearl necklace. “I don’t want to be unkind, but Susie, or Suzanne, as she was in those days, was rather―how can I put it―strange. You know, she had a big voice, big blue eyes, and a great deal of blonde hair, but there was no brain there at all. I mean, she left school with absolutely no qualifications.”

“We were all madly jealous of her, to be honest,” Angela admitted. “Off we went to University, or started work as trainees at Barclays Bank or Marks and Spencer, while she went to America and made records. She married a fabulously wealthy record producer, but the marriage didn’t last long. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I haven’t seen or heard of her for years.” She sighed. “We were rather unkind to her, I’m afraid.”

When the teapot was drained and the cake plate empty, the meeting broke up. “Next time,” Marina said, “we really must talk about history.”

Finally, only George Edwards, the sole male member of the society, remained. He wrapped the last slice of cake in a paper napkin to take home and, breaking his silence, begged Libby to write down the recipe for his wife, who was at home nursing a cold and laryngitis. “She’ll be sorry she missed everything.”

 

Robert's Discovery

Recessed spotlights picked out the details of Libby’s beautifully equipped kitchen as she made coffee, using the state-of-the-art, instant hot water dispenser, installed last week. She pulled out mixing bowls, sieves and scales, and settled to a trial run of the perfect, elaborate, light-as-air cake she was developing. If it turned out as beautifully as she expected, it would make a wonderful cover picture for the book, “Baking at the Beach.”

It was this room that persuaded Libby to buy the cottage. Facing south, always either sunny or cosy, perfect for a baking fanatic. Without a qualm, she’d sold Trevor’s treasured collection of trains, lavishing every last penny they fetched on her workplace. From the KitchenAid mixer on the granite counter, to the gleaming rows of heavy bottomed pans that hung on the wall near the double-size range cooker, Libby adored every inch of the room.

She’d once confided the dream of opening a patisserie to her husband. Trevor took off his glasses and glared, his nose less than an inch away. “Don’t be so stupid.” Libby flinched as saliva hit her face. “Throwing good money after bad. Besides, I expect to find you at home when I come back after a hard day.” He sneered, replaced the spectacles right on the end of his nose, poured a tumbler of whisky and settled down to read the newspaper’s business section. Libby’s new kitchen would have been enough to make him choke on his drink.

BOOK: Murder at the Lighthouse: An Exham on Sea Cosy Mystery (Exham on Sea Cosy Crime Mysteries Book 1)
11.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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