Small Town Suspicions (Some Very English Murders Book 3) (2 page)

The assembled crowd picked up on the uncertainty, and began
to whisper to one another.

Agatha, lacking her volume control again, said, “Looks like
someone’s gone and goofed up, doesn’t it, eh? I wonder who we’re waiting for.”

The man in front of them turned again. “I heard it was that
weirdo, Alec what’s-his-face, him that never talks to anyone. Him as lives down
South Road. Probably eats squirrels. He looks the type.”

“Alec Goodwin?” Agatha sucked at her teeth. “It might be.
But he never gets involved in anything like this. Poor Ginni. She had such
hopes for her nephew.”

The man shook his head. “What? I don’t rate him, neither. That
kid is a wrong ‘un and I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, except
I wouldn’t throw him because I wouldn’t want to touch him to pick him up. Maybe
with gloves on. I’d throw him if I was wearing gloves.”

“Who is Alec Goodwin?” Penny asked, trying to steer the
conversation back into saner waters. She thought she had heard the name before,
but it was getting mixed up with Ginni’s nephew now, and she was already lost.

And she didn’t get an answer because at that moment, the
double doors at the back of the hall burst open, and a young man with lank
straw-like hair burst in and shouted,

“Alec Goodwin’s dead!”

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

The hall exploded. Penny didn’t move. She sat still, quite
stunned waiting to see what would happen next. Agatha got to her feet though it
didn’t make the diminutive woman a great deal taller. The chatty man in front
of them stood up too, and he moved towards the crowd that was gathering around
the young man who’d delivered the shocking news.

Agatha tried to push forward, but soon realised she’d get
nowhere. She turned around to face Penny who was still seated. “What a to-do. You’ll
be thinking that he was murdered, I suppose! Eh?” she said.

“Of course not. Not
everyone
who
dies around
here is murdered.”
I’m not some kind of curse that’s happening to Upper
Glenfield,
she thought, slightly resentfully.
Even if the local homicide
rate has tripled since I’ve lived here. That’s sheer co-incidence and can’t be
blamed on my presence.
“Who is he, anyway? I have heard the name.”

“Alec Goodwin? Like that bloke said, he’s a strange sort of
man. But he’s a celebrated artist, you know. He almost certainly does
not
eat squirrels.”

Penny made the connection. She vaguely recollected hearing
of a reclusive sculptor that lived in the town. “Is he … was he … old?”

“Not really. Sixty or so? Not, you know,
elderly
kind
of old.”

Sixty wasn’t old, Penny realised with a sad shock. Not now that
she herself was the other side of forty. Sixty wasn’t too far down the list of fast-approaching
significant birthdays. “And who’s that lad?” she asked. “The one who came in
with the news. I think I have seen him recently, hanging around the market with
those other kids, smoking and being loud.”
Like I was once
, she reminded
herself.
Don’t be mean.
Kids are just kids.

“Oh, him.” Agatha glanced around, and attempted to lower
her voice. “That would be Steve Llewellyn. Ginni’s nephew, you know. She was so
keen for him to present his ideas for the Sculpture Trail.”

Penny frowned. “Really? How old is he?”

“He’s just finished at University. What would that make
him? Twenty-one or so, eh?”

“Wow. He looks about nineteen.”
And behaves about that
age, too.

Agatha sniffed. “And he’s as scruffy as they come. He needs
to smarten up if he expects to get a job out there in the real world. You have
to learn to toe the corporate line and not stand out, eh.” She ran her
blood-red fingernails over her unconventional beehive, and twisted her neck to
see what was happening.

Penny got to her feet decisively. “I’m going to take a
closer look at him. People seem awfully excited about all this.”

“Of course they are!” Agatha said. “Obviously, a man dead,
sad loss and all that. But after all this, who will take over the Sculpture
Trail now?”

The obvious candidate, Penny thought, was Steve, who had
been passed over. She pressed her lips together and began to elbow her way
through the chattering crowd.

 

* * * *

 

Closer up, she saw that the young man was, indeed, in his
early twenties. He still had a youthful lankiness to his limbs but his
shoulders were beginning to broaden out. His hair was unkempt and came to his
jawline in ragged clumps which screamed of split ends, and he hadn’t shaved for
a few days. Whether that was a fashion statement, or simple slovenliness, Penny
didn’t like to guess.

He looked like he might smell a bit musty, and she chided
herself for her judgemental thought, but once it was in her head, it wasn’t
leaving. If people did have auras, she’d assume his would be beige-tinged.

Now she was close enough to hear what he was saying.

“I dunno! I dunno, all right!” He was shaking his head
angrily. “I just come here to tell you all what I saw, that’s all.”

“Shouldn’t you have waited for the police and the ambulance
to arrive?” a woman said.

Steve’s eyes were wide and glistening. “I weren’t gonna
wait there, next to a body all dead and that! Oh, no. He were dead! He were all
stiff!” He added in a few expletives.

He might have just graduated,
Penny thought,
but
it wasn’t with a degree in English
. She wondered where he had studied, as
he hadn’t lost a single scrap of his broad local accent.

“Did you touch him?” someone asked.

“Of course I didn’t touch him!” The poor lad was genuinely distressed.
“He were … urgh. Like, laid out on the ground. He were a funny colour, blue and
white and red, and there was all this sick everywhere…”

Everyone gasped and recoiled, and rather ghoulishly, everyone
wanted to know even more details. “Did you see anything else suspicious?”
Shaun, the council leader, asked.

“Suspicious? What, like,
apart
from a corpse?” Steve
shot back.

“Was there anyone around? Did you see any vehicles?
Anything?”

Someone else butted in, saying, “Surely the police will ask
him that sort of thing. We’re probably interfering with enquiries or something.”

“Yeah,” Steve said. His fists were tight little balls of
stretched white skin. “But anyway, I didn’t see nothing. Nothing! Just some old
dirty van, and a shabby hatchback. And that were it.”

“What colour was the van?”

Steve was not coping with the pressure of being harangued
and questioned from all sides. “I
dunno!”
he bawled. “Red. Reddish-brown.
No, white. Whatever. I just came to tell you all. I just came to tell my aunt. I
want to talk to my aunt. Where is she?”

“She’s not here,” various people said, all masters and
mistresses of the obvious.

Steve stared about wildly, and without a further word,
began to push through the crowd to the doors at the back of the hall. People
called after him, barracking him with loud and insistent questions, but he
ignored them all, and slammed the doors hard back as he shot through them and
away into the gathering dusk.

“Well now,” said Agatha, appearing at Penny’s side like an
apparition. “Why would he think that his aunt was here, eh?”

“Well,
I
thought she was going to be here,” Penny
pointed out. “She’s pretty prominent in the local arts scene.”

“True, but Steve is living with Ginni at the moment. He
moved in once his final term ended the other week. That’s why she’s so keen to
get him gainfully employed, you might say.”

“But Ginni lives in that tiny flat above her floristry shop!”

“Exactly. There’s hardly room for one up there, never mind
two.” Agatha sucked her teeth. “Now I do wonder, of course, what that Steve was
doing down at Alec Goodwin’s house in the first place.”

“Where is Alec’s house?” Penny asked. “South Road, that man
said…”

“Right the way down South Road,” Agatha told her. “You go
past the pub on the roundabout and you keep on going, until you run out of
houses. And you go on a bit further, and it’s there, behind a load of tall
conifers.”

That was so typical of Lincolnshire,
Penny thought.
There were huge, detached houses scattered all over the farming area, hidden
away behind trees and hedges.

“Is it on the way to anywhere? Could Steve have been
passing by, quite innocently?”

Agatha blurted out a laugh, and a few eavesdroppers that
were nearby also laughed. “No, my love, no. It’s the real back of beyond. It’s
not the sort of place you’d go even if you wanted to.”

“But that makes no …” Penny stopped and shook her head.
Agatha didn’t always make sense. She understood what the hairdresser meant.

The man who had been turning around and talking to them
before was still close by. He said, “Happen he was down there seeing that Barry
chap.”

Penny ran the Lincolnshire dialect through her mental
dictionary.
Steve might have been visiting someone called Barry.
“Who’s
Barry?”

“Oh, he’s just a farm labourer that rents a cottage next to
Alec’s house,” Agatha told her. “I say a ‘cottage.’ Actually it’s a prefab
place, should have been knocked down after the war. You wouldn’t keep chickens
in it, but there we go. Barry’s part of the scenery around here. He wouldn’t
hurt a fly, would Barry. He’s one of nature’s children, if you know what I
mean, eh?”

“No, not really.” Penny mentally added Barry to her
shortlist and then reminded herself that no one even knew if Alec’s death had
been foul play.

People were forming into small groups, and all the chatter
that she could overhear was about Steve and Alec. Why had Steve been there? How
had Alec died?

And why had Steve run to the meeting with the news, instead
of staying with the body for the authorities to arrive?

The speculation became circular, as things did when there
was no new information. Penny bid Agatha farewell, and began to walk slowly
back to her cottage.

Very slowly.

Francine would be there, being all cheerful and sweetness
and keen.

But then, Penny reminded herself, her dog Kali would also
be waiting for her. She picked up the pace again.

 

* * * *

 

 

Penny’s cottage was one of a row, all built in warm yellow
stone that had been quarried locally some fifty years previously. The road,
River Street, was a dead end, and tended to be quiet although there was a
footpath at the far end that led down to the river, where young people would
gather on warm evenings, laughing and sneakily drinking and pretending to be
rebels. The cottages didn’t have front yards. They faced directly onto the
pavement, but out at the back of the cottages, they had long gardens that ran
to an alleyway. Penny’s small car was parked out at the front of her cottage,
and her frivolously-purchased classic motorbike and sidecar was in the shed at
the bottom of her back garden.

And next to her own car was Francine’s little red hatchback.
Penny stopped on the pavement and gazed at her front door.

But her moment of reflection was immediately interrupted by
a barrage of barking. Penny winced and made a silent apology to her neighbours.
How did Kali know that Penny was standing outside? Francine would tell her that
they were in tune with one another because they’d “bonded” but she had also
starting referring to Penny as “Kali’s mummy” which Penny found both odd and
awkward.

The front door opened and Francine’s beaming face appeared
above the delightful apparition of foaming, barking dog. Kali shot out, tail
blurring, and butted into Penny, almost twisting herself into a spiral in her
eagerness to greet her owner. She wanted to simultaneously press against Penny,
lie down for a belly rub, and run in a circle. She tried to do all three, and
nearly fell over. Penny knew that her daft Rottweiler would never be entering
any agility competitions. She’d fallen backwards off the sofa more than once.

“I told you she was coming back,” Francine said to the
over-excited dog.

Penny patted Kali once, and stood up straight. “It’s not
good for her to get so wound up,” she said. “I can usually come and go without
her making a big fuss.”

Francine didn’t look at Penny. She was holding her arms out
to Kali and making “shush” noises. Kali, quite understandably, didn’t like the
outstretched hand which looked like a bit of a threat to her, and the noise Francine
was making was unsettling. So Kali stayed by Penny, leaning back against her
legs, and making a snuffling noise of greeting.

Francine looked hurt. She sighed and stood up to face Penny,
brushing her hands together. “Well. So how was the sculpture meeting? Did you
get to see lots of exciting designs? What are they going to do? When will it be
completed? Is it fantastic?”

Penny stroked the top of Kali’s head. She didn’t want to
talk. She wanted to sift it all in her mind and mull it over for a while. She’d
always lived alone, more or less, and was set in her ways.

But Francine was smiling in an open and disarming way. Penny
didn’t want to seem rude or churlish.

“An artist
had
been chosen,” Penny said. “And some
people were quite upset, because the council did it secretly and in advance.
It’s all irrelevant now, though. He seems to have suffered some … uh,
misfortune.”

“Oh? How so?”

“He’s dead, apparently.”

Francine’s hand flew to her mouth in a dramatic yet – for
her – totally natural movement. Her usually narrow eyes widened. “No! How and
when? Right there, at the meeting? Oh gosh. How awful for him, and you all. Was
it a heart attack?”

“Not quite. He didn’t actually make it to the meeting. It
was a man called Alec Goodwin.”

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