Read Village Affairs Online

Authors: Cassandra Chan

Village Affairs

BOOK: Village Affairs
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Table of Contents

Title Page
Copyright Page

In memoriam
Edward E. Chan,
my father, who first introduced me to the delights of mystery
novels. It has been one of the greatest gifts ever given to me
and is just one of the many reasons I love him so much.
Here’s hoping he would have liked this one.


Firstly to Kelley Ragland, who had to work extra-hard on this one, even while training a new assistant and then not having one at all (he probably quit because I was late, again). And also to Jennifer, without whom I would be utterly lost, and to my mother, whose store of encouragement is endless.

Thanks to Dr. Lawrence Watkins for suggesting Seconal, and to Steve Krull for explaining about it. And a huge debt of gratitude goes to Linda Pankhurst, Brit extraordinaire, who undertook the monumental task of replacing all the unintentional Americanisms with proper Britishisms. And a special thank you to Beth Knoche for volunteering to proof the manuscript and for calling to say she loved it.

I’m also very grateful for all the support the crew at the bookstore has shown me, both in doing their utmost to sell the first book, and in putting up with me while I wrote the second one.

Lastly, I’d like to extend my deep appreciation to Jack and Mary Dodge for author photos, drinks, and friendship.


t was Marla’s idea. Phillip Bethancourt himself was not entirely convinced that the best cure for a broken heart was to surround the afflicted with attractive members of the opposite sex. But Marla Tate, one of England’s most in-demand fashion models, was not a woman known for her generous impulses and she was likely to turn sulky if this one was rebuffed. Or so Bethancourt judged.

“Just the thing,” he said, putting as much enthusiasm into the words as he could. He succeeded so well that the large Borzoi hound at his feet pricked his ears and lifted his noble head. Bethancourt bent to stroke his pet. “It ought to cheer Jack right up,” he continued. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.”

Marla tossed her head, shaking a loose lock of copper hair off her forehead. “I don’t know why you didn’t, either,” she agreed. “You’ve certainly been thinking of little else lately.”

This was true. It was now more than a month since Bethancourt had returned home from a polo match to find his friend Jack Gibbons sitting on the front steps of his Chelsea flat, bearing the news that Annette Berowne had left him. It helped not at all that Bethancourt had seen it coming; he had been suspicious of Annette’s feelings from the beginning and had at first tried to put Gibbons on his guard. But since Gibbons had spent the summer plotting the most romantic way to propose, his friend had stifled the alarm bells that rang in his mind and hoped that his own bleak outlook of the suit owed more to his distaste of Annette than to the true state of affairs. He was very sorry to have been proved right in the end.

Bethancourt had done all he could to see his friend through those first miserable days, but what now concerned him was the fact that Gibbons did not seem to have improved much. It would have been inaccurate to say he was developing a drinking problem since he was usually sober; still, the pint after work was now usually two or three, and on the occasions when he visited Bethancourt, the level in the malt whisky bottle seemed to drop more rapidly than it once had.

“So are you going to ring him up?” asked Marla impatiently.

“Yes, of course,” answered Bethancourt.

But he paused in reaching for the phone, having caught a gleam in Marla’s jade-green eyes. It occurred to him that there was more to this than a simple desire to dispel Gibbons’s gloom. Marla had never liked Gibbons, mostly due to the fact that it was he who enabled Bethancourt to indulge in his hobby of amateur sleuthing, an activity that Marla abhorred. And it was undeniably true that during the summer of Gibbons’s affair, Bethancourt had seen much less of him. He wondered who among Marla’s friends she had earmarked for Gibbons.

“Right then,” he said, capturing the phone. “Let’s ring Scotland Yard.”

Detective Sergeant Jack Gibbons sat at his desk, buried in paperwork. He did not much like the clerical side of his job, but one had to take the bad with the good in any job, and if he could just keep his mind on it all, he thought he could clear his desk by six, providing he was not sidetracked by chatting about other people’s cases. That was far more distracting than paperwork, and he badly needed distraction. There had been no truly interesting cases since the summer, and these days, when time hung heavy on his hands, he found himself continually contemplating the wreck of his hopes.

He brightened when the telephone rang, but the gloom returned when he heard the light, clipped tones of his friend Bethancourt, and not the deep, raspy ones of the chief inspector summoning him to a case.

“I’m ringing to see if you fancied a day or two in the country,” said Bethancourt. “Marla’s got a fashion shoot in the Cotswolds and it turns out that the house they’re using belongs to an old friend of my family. Quite a showplace it’s supposed to be. So I’m going along and I thought you could come and keep me company while Marla’s working.”

Gibbons tried to rouse himself. “It sounds very nice,” he said. “When is it to be?”

“Tuesday,” answered Bethancourt.

“Tuesday?” repeated Gibbons incredulously. This, he thought to himself, was what came of having independently wealthy friends. “I work on Tuesdays,” he said with exaggerated patience. “It’s considered part of the working week, Tuesday is. Along with Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. I think you’ll find that the vast majority of people with jobs work on weekdays.”

“I know that,” said Bethancourt, unperturbed. “I thought perhaps you could get it off, if you weren’t on a case. God knows you end up working enough weekends—they must give you some time off.”

“I expect they must,” said Gibbons. “But I’m due in court on Tuesday afternoon, so I am not destined to revel in the autumn countryside.”

“What a pity,” said Bethancourt, who was secretly rather relieved. “Well, I’ll be back at the end of the week—Marla and I are staying on for a day or two after the shoot. I’ll ring you then and we’ll see a matinee of something or go to dinner.”

“That will be lovely,” said Gibbons. “I’ve got to get back to work now, Phillip. I’ll talk to you over the weekend.”

He rang off and returned to the contemplation of his paperwork. He was, as it turned out, destined to see the autumn countryside, if not to revel in it. It was rather a pity that all the models were gone by the time he got there.

“And now,” said Clarence Astley-Cooper, “I’ve got all these fashion people coming in.”

It was Wednesday night and the Deer and Hounds was crowded after choir practice, the usual regulars relegated to a cramped space at one end of the bar while choristers and their companions congregated in groups across the old flagstone floor.

Astley-Cooper, having had quite enough of standing during practice, had ensconced himself at the largest table and stretched out his gammy knee. He had passed his fiftieth birthday over the summer and felt his advancing years were due some consideration.

The vicar and his wife had joined him there, also glad to sit down after their labors. Reverend Tothill was new to the parish by village standards and was largely responsible for this weekly crush at the pub, having set the example. It had been the cause of no few lifted brows, but after five years even the most entrenched of the villagers were beginning to accustom themselves to him and his odd ideas, one of which was that he counted everyone, not just the regular churchgoers, as part of his parish.

He was surveying his parishioners now, one hand around a pint of bitter and the other entwined with his wife’s fingers, but turned at Astley-Cooper’s pronouncement.

“Fashion people?” he inquired. He still wore his cassock, but had slipped a worn tweed jacket over it, and the two garments contrasted oddly together.

“Fashion people,” said Astley-Cooper firmly. “From
or some such.”

?” asked the vicar’s wife, who was the possessor of a remarkably fine soprano voice. She was not dressed in a manner that indicated any familiarity with the magazine, but her blue eyes were interested. “Why are they coming to Stutely Manor? Surely you’re not opening the place to the public?”

“No, no.” Astley-Cooper looked affronted. “Certainly not. They’re coming to shoot pictures in the house and grounds. Probably evening dress in the gallery—it’s a very fine example of its period.” The fineness of the gallery appeared to depress him, for he relapsed into silence and took a long draught from his pint.

“I see,” said the vicar encouragingly. “And sports clothes in the garden perhaps?”

“Very likely,” admitted Astley-Cooper. “Of course, it’s rather a pity that the sheep got in there. Mr. Crocks was very upset. Still, they left the late roses. Too many thorns.”

The vicar pressed his lips together as if to hide a smile.

“They can’t have done much damage,” said Charles Bingham consolingly. He was not a member of the choir—as his raspy voice attested—but he was a sociable man and had early on discovered the pleasures of a late Wednesday visit to the Deer and Hounds. “Surely your dog chased them out again like one o’clock.”

“Whiff might have done,” agreed Astley-Cooper, “if he hadn’t been shut up in the house at the time.”

“Oh, dear,” said the vicar.

“Yes, it was rather awful.”

“But why,” persisted the vicar’s wife, not to be deterred from the original subject, “are you letting the
people in?”

Astley-Cooper looked surprised. “They paid me,” he answered.

The others all laughed, although Astley-Cooper had not meant to be funny. He did not seem disturbed by their reaction, however, taking it in his stride as if used to being the cause of unexpected humor.

“Well,” said Bingham, recovering, “then I expect you must put up with them.”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t,” replied Astley-Cooper with dignity. “I just said it’s a frightful bother.”

“Are they staying at Stutely?”

BOOK: Village Affairs
5.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Murder at Castle Rock by Anne Marie Stoddard
Her Father's House by Belva Plain
Double Shot by Diane Mott Davidson
Doctor Criminale by Malcolm Bradbury
Love of the Wild by Susan Laine
Pretty When She Destroys by Rhiannon Frater
More by Keren Hughes