Small Town Suspicions (Some Very English Murders Book 3) (7 page)

“To burn the evidence? I don’t know. I was told this
department needs to work as a team. I suppose that means that they’ve been
stealing each other’s milk from the office kitchen.”

“Drew … have you any free time coming up?”

There was a pause. She wondered if she was being too forward.
Then she shrugged. If he couldn’t handle that, she wasn’t going to pretend to
be something else.

In spite of her pretended indifference, she was relieved
when he laughed. “I have. Tomorrow afternoon, after three … do you want to do
anything in particular?”

“Not really. I just fancy getting out and walking
somewhere.”

“I’ll call by. I miss seeing Kali, anyway.”

“How rude!”

“Gotta go,” he said, and she could hear him still laughing
as he hung up.

 

* * * *

 

 “Call by.” Penny rolled her eyes at herself as she stared
at the various items of clothing she had scattered on her bed. “Call by,”
that’s what he’d said. There was no use dressing up for someone who was just
“calling by,” right?

But the weather was hot and humid and muggy, and she’d
recently had her hair bleached out to blonde with some peacock-blue stripes,
which were already fading to a disappointing green. It was the sort of summer
weather that did prompt you to change your clothes a few times a day, and stay
permanently under a cold shower if it were at all possible.

So Penny slipped out of her khaki shorts and t-shirt, and
into a floaty sun dress that had a nipped-in waist and a vintage feel to the
way it flared out above her knees.

Drew was right on time, and she invited him in to try some
sorbet she’d bought, but he suggested they go for a drive. With the windows
open, he said, it would be more pleasant than staying still anywhere, and she
agreed.

They chatted about inconsequential things, and it was
lovely. He spoke about his various new jobs, especially about the manager of
the Arches Hotel and Conference Centre, Brian, who was being very supportive.

Or, demanding, was another way of looking at it.

“I’ve got more work than I can handle at the moment,” Drew
said ruefully, his arm resting on the rolled-down window as they took a curving
and rural route south of Upper Glenfield. “But I keep saying yes, just in case
it all dries up and I end up starving …”

Penny laughed. She knew that feeling well.

On they went, with Penny sharing stories of her life behind
the scenes in television, and Drew telling her about the local hero, Hereward
the Saxon, whose ghost was apparently still sighted in the woods above a small
town called Bourne. He pulled into the car parking area, and they wandered out
along a path that was cool and shady.

“There’s some that call him Hereward the Wake,” Drew said
as they pottered along.

“Ah! I have heard of him,” she said.

“Well, the thing is, the Wake family were Normans, and it
was Normans that he was fighting. So they took his lands and everything, and
it’s victors that write history, so by calling him ‘the Wake’ when they wrote
about it, they could somehow claim legitimacy.”

“Sneaky.”

“I reckon he’s the first English freedom fighter. Except
when you look at being ‘English’ and you look at all the different peoples that
have invaded over the years – Normans included – we’re a bunch of mongrels,
really.”

“Anyway, he didn’t win, did he?” Penny said. “The Normans
took over.”

“For a while, I suppose, until we assimilated them like we
do to everyone. It’s quite cool, actually, don’t you think?”

Penny smiled at Drew’s passion. “Yes, I suppose it is. Was
he defeated in battle, like a true hero?”

“It’s a bit bizarre, actually. The story goes that he was
holed up on the Fens. I think it was on the Isle of Ely. The Normans were
attacking and they had a witch in a tower that they pushed towards the Isle,
chanting and casting spells.”

Penny laughed out loud. “No way.”

“It’s the story. Who knows? Anyway the witch wasn’t much
use but one of the monks on the Isle was treacherous, and betrayed them,
leading the Normans in to where they were hiding. Hereward escaped … or so they
say.”

Penny grinned. “A witch in a tower. I can’t imagine a bunch
of armed men finding that scary.”

“But it’s all a matter of perception,” Drew said. “Look at
it in context. What about this Alec Goodwin?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well,” he said. “I know you’ll be listening out for
information. But everyone has an opinion and it’s all filtered through what
they already think they know about artists, and people who want to be
reclusive, and all that sort of thing. I don’t we ever see anything as it truly
is.”

“Gosh, that’s philosophical.”

He laughed, then, and picked up his pace. “I know. I’m
sorry. I’m working so hard these days that sometimes my thoughts go off on very
mad tangents. Wait – hush.” He put out a hand and stopped her, and dropped his
voice to a whisper as he came to a sudden stop. “Look up there.”

It was a herd of deer, passing through the trees and
bushes. “What are they?” she said in a low voice. “And don’t just say ‘deer’.”

“Fallow,” he replied. “Not native. They were introduced by
the Normans, too, as it happens. Now they are some of the most common in the
UK.”

“Wow. Beautiful,” she whispered as the last few darted
past.

“Tasty, too,” he said, and she hit him hard on the arm.
“Ow! Joking.”

“Not funny.”

He shot a sideways glance at her, and appeared to be about
to speak. She glared.

He shrugged, and they carried on.

Chapter Six

 

 

 

Drew dropped her off in the late afternoon and she felt
relaxed and at ease after spending a few hours in his easy company.

That evening, Francine insisted on ordering take-away food.
There was one fish and chip shop in the town, and they had recently started a
home delivery service. Their cod and chips, twice, were duly delivered, wrapped
up in paper. Penny tipped the young lad on the moped quite generously, which
she knew would ensure she always had prompt service in the future.

“Messy?” Francine asked as they unwrapped the food in the
kitchen. Penny recoiled as the sting of vinegar and salt fumes hit her eyes and
made them water.

“Messy,” she agreed.

It was a code they both remembered from when they’d
travelled together, two young members of large production crews. It meant bare,
basic food, enjoyed from the wrappers rather than from plates, eaten off the
knees while sitting on walls or in parks. They took two trays and went through
to the living room, and Kali was relegated to a spot on the carpet to watch
them as they ate with their fingers.

“Come on, Francine,” Penny said, not looking at her friend.
It was now or never. She concentrated on dipping her chips in the blob of
ketchup she’d put at the side of the unfurled paper. “Tell me why you’re here.
Why you’re
really
here. Did something go horribly wrong in London?”

“Not at all!” Francine chirped. Her voice was light and
amused. Penny couldn’t imagine Francine lying to her, so she had to assume she
wasn’t hiding anything. Not exactly lying, perhaps, but maybe she just wasn’t
saying everything.

“I don’t understand this manifesting one’s destiny rubbish,
either,” Penny said, hoping a sideways change of topic would help.

“You don’t have to understand it. I don’t understand
gravity, but it works, right?”

“Gravity is science.”

“If it works for me, though, then why not?”

Penny sighed. “But what if it’s all made up nonsense?” She
truly believed it was.

“Again, does it matter, if it gives me a focus?” Francine
said.

“I suppose not.”

“Look,” Francine said. “There’s more than one way to live a
life. There’s more than one way to understand life. There’s more than one way
to do anything.”

The words stuck in Penny’s head and she couldn’t shake them
free. It obviously meant something to her subconscious so she filed it away,
and said, with a defeated air, “Do you fancy a cup of tea with this?”

“Ooh, yes please. Thank you.”

As Penny stood up, Francine spoke again. Her voice was low.
“And thank you for letting me stay. I know you didn’t expect me to turn up. I …
haven’t been totally honest with you. The reason I came here was … well, it’s
hard, but things weren’t going well at work.”

Penny cocked her head on one side. Just as she had
suspected, though she was genuinely shocked that Francine had said she’d not
been honest. She asked, with concern, “What happened?”

Francine looked sad, briefly. She gabbled, “Oh, just some
nasty talk, and I realised I was fed up of it. Life’s too short, hey? Anyway.
Weren’t you making some tea?”

It was a clear signal that the conversation was over. Penny
was intrigued but knew she should not press it.

Not yet.

And maybe it was not time to ask Francine to leave.

 

* * * *

 

Penny went to bed and dreamed, and when she woke up on
Thursday morning, she felt more clear in her purpose.

She’d dreamed about Reg Bailey, of all people. The elderly
gentleman was an old-school type, always seen in a neat blazer and well-pressed
chinos. He believed in politeness, writing thank-you letters, and public
floggings for people who dropped litter.

There was more than one way to do something, Francine had
told her. It reminded her of Alec and his lack of computer. Penny and Cath had
talked about how he’d got online, and Penny realised that she had to go and
talk to Reg.

It wasn’t a message from the universe, she knew. She
thought if she mentioned it to Francine, she’d get a long explanation about how
the universe knew what she needed. It was just her own brain reminding her to
get on with things and stop floating around in a mood.

She dressed in her favourite clothes. Her fitted tunic made
her feel slim, and her bright blue linen trousers were floaty and comfortable
in the heat. She had just finished her breakfast when Francine appeared in the
kitchen.

“You look nice.”

“Thank you. I’m off out, investigating. It is about time I
got started.”

“Oh! That’s good. I’ll take Kali for a walk, shall I?”

“No, it’s all right,” Penny said, and Francine’s face fell.

“I want to help,” Francine insisted. “And I want to bond
more with Kali. Please let me help. It’s my way of saying thanks for letting me
stay and everything.”

So it was out of Penny’s hands, and she felt a pang as she
watched Kali happily trot off with Francine.

But she had things to do, and it clearly did Francine some
good, and it was going to help Penny. She stepped out into town and walked with
a swinging, decisive step. She went first to the tiny satellite library in
Upper Glenfield. She usually visited the larger one in Lincoln for her books,
but the small local library was open four mornings a week and had two computers
for general public use. It was staffed by a slender and efficient young woman
with enormous glasses and a mass of soft, fuzzy, mousey-blonde hair.

“Hi! I wonder if you can help me.”

“Sure. What are you looking for?”

“Not a book, as such. But information, yes. Um, do you know
that sculptor, Alec Goodwin?”

The librarian made a suitably sad face. “I had heard of
him, because he died recently, didn’t he?”

“Yes, that’s right. I wondered if he ever used the library
here. Specifically, did he come in to use the computers?”

The librarian shook her head. “The police came in and asked
me the same thing. No, he didn’t, as far as I know. I know the names of all my
regulars.”

“Thank you.”

Penny left the library and someone seemed to have turned up
the heat outside while she’d been talking in the cool interior. Lincolnshire in
the summer was a furnace, and she wasn’t used to it. She pulled her shades out
of her tote bag and paused on the pavement. She knew where Reg lived. He had a
large and detached house along Cuthbert Road, which was a select and exclusive
residential area to the south of Glenfield. First, though, she made her way to
the mini-market, and checked out the noticeboard.

She was looking for the posters about the “Silver Surfer
Classes” that he was involved with. She didn’t really know him well enough to
simply turn up on his doorstep to ask some questions. She’d tried that before,
more than once, and it had never ended well. She was learning that she had to
be a little more sensitive with her approach.

There it was – an A4 sheet of paper with more use of
clip-art and word art than she’d seen for many years. “You’re not too old to
get online!” the blocky text headline in a flag-waving shape proclaimed.
“Weekday mornings, 9am to 10am, Community Centre.”

Penny frowned. She couldn’t remember even seeing any
computers at the community centre, and when she checked her watch, it was
already a quarter past ten.

But it was worth a shot. She turned around, and briskly
made her way through town and down the road that led out to the small community
centre.

 

* * * *

 

And she was in luck. When she reached the long, low
building, there was an old but immaculate Jaguar parked outside, in flagrant
defiance of the yellow lines on the road. A dapper figure in a white suit was
loading boxes into the boot of the car.

She hailed him as she approached. “Good morning, Mr
Bailey!”

He turned and smiled, and raised one hand cordially. “Ahh,
Miss May. How lovely to see you. Are you well?”

“I am, thanks. Yourself?”

“Mustn’t grumble. I could do with a little less heat and a
little more rain for my roses, but all in all, what a glorious summer we’re
having.”

“Yes, lovely.”

He looked at her with a hint of wariness. The last time
they’d met, it had been under the sobering circumstances of another man’s
death, and Reg Bailey had had to face some uncomfortable family secrets. She
didn’t want to rake over those things, and she could tell that neither did he.

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