The Creative Peak

New inspired writing from an independent publisher

Cocktail of Secrets

C T Luxon

Murder Mystery

Amy is tall, good-looking and in her early thirties. But all is not well. Just before her wedding day, the man of her dreams decided a rich heiress was more to his liking. She was devastated. To help her get over her despondency her brother has invited her to stay. She isn’t hopeful of being pulled out of the doldrums, as he is the vicar in a small South Yorkshire village. He has warned her that nothing ever happens there. But the discovery of a body changes all that. She is thrown into the suspicions that a murder generates. As the secret life of the village is exposed, so she is forced into meeting several of the village men. And men were definitely not on her agenda!

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Chapter One

‘How long does this journey take?’ asked Amy to no one in particular, as she sat alone in the rickety one carriage train. She was on her way to stay with her brother, the local vicar, in the small South Yorkshire village of Nether Crimpton. It had been a long journey from Brighton on the south coast. She was feeling hot and bothered. Despite several heavy hints about a quiet journey, the Yorkshire sheep farmer, who sat opposite her on the journey from St Pancras to Sheffield, had talked all the way. At this moment in her life, whatever men did, they seemed to annoy her.
She looked out over the gentle rolling countryside as the train slowly ground to a halt at yet another signal. There was no air conditioning in this old carriage, which she thought was a left over from a bygone age. The seats were uncomfortable and looked like they had been taken from an old bus. She remembered sitting on seats like this nearly thirty years ago, when she first went to school with her governess.

Amy’s discomfort was made worse as it was a blazing hot summer’s afternoon and her feet ached. It hadn’t been a good decision to wear new shoes on such a long journey. She looked down at her feet and admired the sleek, pink and blue, high-heeled shoes. The delicate bow on the front of them, had captured her attention yesterday, as she had moped around the shops in Brighton.
After the emotional traumas of Scotland, she had gone home to her parents in the seaside resort. Both were very busy GP doctors and could spare her little time. She had only been there for about a month, when they suggested that she should go to stay with her brother Augustus. While she didn’t want to leave Brighton, she was looking forward to seeing Gus again. It had been eighteen months, since they had been together in Africa.

Amy looked at her two heavy cases and hoped there would be a porter to meet her. If not, she was sure that Gus would carry them for her. She sighed as she just wanted the journey to be over, then she could have a long bath and pamper herself a little. As the train slowly rattled into the next station, she glanced out of the window to see the old wooden sign, Nether Crimpton Halt. She was relieved to have finally arrived. The guard, who had been in talking to the driver in his cab, since they had left Sheffield, reappeared to shout down the carriage, ‘Nether Crimpton’.
He looked at Amy struggling with her two large cases, and promptly closed the door, to carry on talking to the driver. Amy’s long legs easily made it down the large step onto the concrete platform. It was much harder to drag the suitcases down the step. As soon as the second one reached the platform, the doors closed and the train began to pull away.
She stood to her full height and looked around. The station, if it could be called that, was two concrete platforms on either side of the track. Near to where she got off was a tin hut, on which the faded writing said, ‘Waiting Room’. There was nothing else in sight. It was hard to even pick out a building in the distance. The halt was in the middle of some lush, yellow fields. The pungent aroma of the fields of rape, wafted over her and she screwed up her nose at the smell. She wondered why Augustus wasn’t here to meet her? She looked at her cases and sighed. Her irritation was growing because she had no idea where to go. It was now obvious that this decrepit old station didn’t have a porter.

At the end of the platform a slight movement caught her eye. She hoped it was her brother. Amy soon realised her expectations were dashed. A small figure in a heavy black, gabardine coat gradually came up the slope at the end of the platform. As the person walked towards Amy, she could see it was a women, who was wrapped up tightly in the coat, despite the high afternoon temperature. The coat almost touched the ground. She wore a black peaked cap, that completely covered her small head, and came down to just above her eyes. To Amy she looked a very strange lady as she approached. She had glanced over the woman’s shoulder to see that there was no one else on the platform. It was then that she realised that the little old lady was coming up to her. As she got closer, the features under the peak cap became evident. Judging by her face, the woman was probably in her seventies, although she walked very briskly for her age. Amy waited for her to approach.

‘You must be Amy,’ said the woman, ‘I’m Mavis Rudd. The Reverend sent me.’

Amy made her best effort to overcome her disappointment and smiled, ‘Yes, I am Amy, where’s Augustus?’

‘Helping old Mrs Braithwaite to the other side,’ said Mavis eyeing up the cases.

‘Ah...’ replied Amy picking up the meaning and trying to think what to say next, ‘has she been very ill?’

‘You are very tall,’ said Mavis looking a long way up at Amy, ‘I don’t know about ill, but the doctor said that she wouldn’t last the afternoon.’ Amy’s face must have shown a perplexed look, as Mavis added, ‘She is hundred and five years old.’

Before Amy could come to terms with what had been said, Mavis added, ‘You take the one with wheels.’ Mavis picked up the other suitcase, turned and walked briskly down the platform leaving Amy standing there in amazement. By the time, Amy had picked up her handbag, adjusted her shoes, she only caught up with Mavis, as they went down the slope at the end of the platform. In front them was an old battered, London taxi. Mavis opened the door and put in the suitcase that she was carrying. Amy struggled with hers down the slope. When she reached the taxi, Mavis lifted the case into the car, and said, ‘Get in, dear.’

Amy was thrown back in her seat, as Mavis slammed down the accelerator. She reached for a seat belt, but couldn’t find one. She had to grab the grip by the door, as the taxi swung violently out of the small car park, and down the lane. Amy was terrified at the speed they were going down a narrow country lane, in a battered old taxi, with a septuagenarian driver.
Her level of terror rose further as they approached a blind bend. Mavis put her hand on the horn, and held it there, as they sped round the bend. In a few minutes, the journey was coming to an end, as the taxi turned off the tarmaced road and onto a track. It was a bouncy ride as they drove, in Amy’s opinion, too fast across the loose gravel. The taxi skidded to a halt, and Mavis said, ‘Here we are, dear.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Rudd,’ said Amy much relieved to have finished the journey. Mavis turned around and gave her a broad smile. She then got out to open the door for Amy.

‘How much do I owe you?’ she asked, as she stepped onto the dusty track, and watched as a puff of dust blow over her new shoes.

‘Put your money away my dear, the Reverend will sort me. We understand each other. I’ll get the cases out.’
Amy stood to her full height, which towered over Mavis, ‘Let me do it.’

‘No dear. You will crease your nice dress, and that would be a pity, as it’s so pretty.’ Amy didn’t protest any more. She just thought how strange it all felt. She sensed life was going to be very different during her stay with Gus. She took the opportunity to look at her surroundings.

The huge spire of the church towered above her. It was a magnificent ornate building. It seemed to Amy to be more of a cathedral, than a parish church. On the other side of the track, stood the ruins of what had been a much older and smaller chapel. The graveyard surrounding it showed signs of great antiquity. A large and gnarled yew stood in the middle of the graves and dominated the walls that still remained of the old church.

Mavis picked up one case and dragged the other along on its wheels. ‘Keep away,’ she said, ‘the dust goes everywhere.’ Amy sighed as she looked down at her shoes, which were now the pale yellow of the dust. It was as she turned to follow Mavis, that she caught her first sight of the vicarage where she was going to stay. ‘My God,’ she said under her breath. She looked up at the dark steep gables of this ancient house, with its small leaded windows, and heavy oak door. ‘It looks like something from the horror movies.’
‘What was that, dear?’ said Mavis.

‘I’m just admiring the house.’ Amy wasn’t a woman who was easily scared. She certainly didn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but she thought that the building looked really creepy. Mavis pushed her way through the large metal gate, which rocked on its hinges and groaned as she bashed the suitcase against it.
‘I haven’t got a key,’ said Amy.

‘It’s never locked,’ said Mavis as she pushed opened the huge front door and went in. She put the cases on the floor under the stag’s head, which was just inside the oak panelled hall. Mavis hung her cap on the lowest part of the huge antlers that hung out from the wall.

Amy walked into the hall in amazement and came eye to eye with the stag. Its glass eyes seemed to move to examine her. She jumped initially, but then just put it down to the tricks of the light. Mavis had now walked down the length of the hall. ‘This way dear, I expect you will want a cup of tea, after your long journey,’ said Mavis as she went into the kitchen. She filled the kettle, placed it on the gas stove, and lit the flame underneath it.

Amy just looked around in astonishment. The kitchen didn’t look like it had changed since the 1930s. It was dark in the room, and so she peered through the small window to the outside. Amy stepped back in astonishment. She could clearly read the gravestone, which was only about two feet from the window. The view from the kitchen was over the graveyard. She wanted to pinch herself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. She said to herself, ‘What have I let myself into? She knew that Gus would take all these things in his stride, but it was surreal to be picked up by a taxi driver, who just walks into a house and makes the tea.

‘Where’s the milk,’ said Amy coming back to her senses. She saw that Mavis already had a tray and the cups organised. She was warming the pot, and waiting for the kettle to boil. Amy looked around, but couldn’t see a fridge.

‘In the dairy, my dear,’ replied Mavis. Amy looked confused as she tried to work out what she meant. Mavis continued, ‘Through that door, down the steps, and the door on the left.’

Amy opened the huge wooden door and stepped into a well-stocked and precisely organised pantry. She immediately spotted several jars of Gus’s favourite jam. She looked around. At the end of the pantry, about ten feet away, were some steps. It was cold in here. The air became chillier and the atmosphere more eerie, as she went down the steps. The small door opened with a slight creak. She had to duck to get into the very small room. She shivered as it was very cold and damp. The milk, butter and other things normally in a fridge were all laid out on the stone slabs. There was no chiller down here, it was just the natural coldness of being below ground. At the top of the wall, that faced her, was a very small grating, which she could just see through. It was at grass level, and she could just see the bottom of a gravestone. She hurriedly took the milk and returned to the kitchen. The teapot was already on a tray, which now had a lace cover. Next to the single cup and saucer was a scone, butter and jam. ‘Are you not going to have a cup. Mrs Rudd.’

‘No thank you, my dear, the Reverend won’t be long. I must go and pick up Mrs Braithwaite.’ Amy remembered that Mavis had said, that was where Augustus had gone. She was now far too confused, about what was happening, to ask anything else. She studied Mavis, why would a taxi-driver be going to a person who had died. Amy shook her head and decided to ask Gus for an explanation.

‘This way,’ said Mavis, who walked back into the hall and went into the first room on the left. It was the old library. Immediately, Amy caught the smell of the musty books, which lined the walls. As she got fully into the room, she smiled as she saw the desk and chair. The familiarity of Gus’s briefcase, pens and personal books, gave her a sense of relief.

Within a few minutes, Mavis had left. Amy was sat alone in the huge wing backed chair, in the creaking house, waiting for her brother. There were no other sounds apart from a dog barking somewhere nearby. She was feeling tired after her journey, but was definitely not going to fall asleep in this house on her own. Amy stirred herself to walk around the room and glance at the books and desk, but her heart wasn’t in it. She aimlessly drifted, as she had done since her man had let her down so badly in Scotland. She still shuddered every time she thought about it. It was such a calamity after expecting to become Mrs McDougall. She had been so close, but had suddenly found out that the marriage was not going to take place. Shock had replaced surprise when the man, she adored, said that he was leaving her. It had been so close to her wedding day.

In the eerie quietness of Gus’s study, a tear gently rolled down her cheek, but a steely glint came into her eye, as she said to herself, ‘Snap out of it, it’s gone, it’s past! You’ve got to do something positive.’

Amy wanted to stick by the resolution that she had told her parents. She would absorb herself in something that caught her imagination. There definitely wouldn’t be any more men for the foreseeable future. She again looked around the room. So this is what my parents and Gus came up with to make me positive. She knew they were trying to do the best for her, but she shook her head in disbelief.

She went back to the chair and sat down to eat her scone. Before the first mouthful, she froze in her chair. There was a very distinctive creak of the floor in the hall. Someone was there, she wasn’t in any doubt. Her stomach tightened as she worked out that the noise was coming towards the library. It was now a very clear sound. There was no chance it was just the old building groaning.

Amy stared intently at the door. Her eyes got wider, and she got ready to scream, as it gradually creaked open. She was full of tension but she waited. The first signs made her jump. A long nose on a black face appeared. The deep, doleful black eyes peered at her. She laughed. ‘Come here boy,’ she said in a gentle tone, but the head quickly disappeared. By the time she had opened the door fully, the dog was gone. A quick thought suddenly crossed her mind. Was it a ghost? No, no it was a real dog. Why does Augustus have a dog?

Her slight shake of the head stopped, as she looked out of the window. Coming along the track was the flowing black cassock of her brother Augustus. His huge frame was striding out, creating a swirl of dust behind him. She could immediately see that his thinning black hair hadn’t changed and it stuck out at eccentric angles. A warm smile crossed her face. Quickly she left the library and went to meet him. She got along the hall just as he came in the front door. She ran towards him and flung her arms around his neck. ‘Gus, it’s so wonderful to see you. I’ve missed you,’ and she promptly burst into tears.

“Hello, sis,’ he said in his calm manner, as he hugged her back. He slid his solid strong arms around her and lifted her off the floor. He carried her backwards so that he could shut the front door. He had picked her up like this ever since she was little. Although she was now tall, with even more height given to her by her four inch heels, she still had to look up to him. He took no notice of the tears and gently put her down. ‘Let me look at you,’ he said in his deep gentle voice. He held her at arm’s length. ‘You look pale, but I expected that after what you have been through.’
He still took no notice of the tears and led her back into the study. He continued, ‘But what I have got planned for you will soon get your cheeks glowing and your wonderful smile back.’ Amy gave a little sigh, as she just hoped that Gus was right.

‘So what do you think of it all?’ said Gus waving his hand around, ‘The village? The church? The vicarage?’

‘This house is so spooky,’ she said. They both laughed together.

‘Is my little sis going to be frightened of all the ghosts?’

Amy laughed, ‘No, of course not, but it’s like something from a horror movie.’

‘I think any estate agent would say that it had character.’

‘It certainly has that,’ said Amy. They chatted for a while about the joy of seeing each other. They had not been together since they were in Africa. Then Augustus said, ‘Do you want the first part of your recuperation?’

‘I’m perfectly OK, I don’t need looking after.’

Augustus gave a gentle smile and said, ‘I’ll always look after my little sister.’ At which point Amy promptly burst into tears again and hugged her brother.

‘Stay there,’ he said and left the room. He soon returned, put his head round the door and said, ‘He’s a bit wary of new people.’ Brightness shone on Amy’s face as that same black nose appeared again. Augustus opened the door fully and came into the library. The large dog stayed very close behind him. Amy called to him, as he stayed half hidden by the door and her brother. She got down on her knees and called him again. Augustus patted him on the head and the dog, taking it as a sign of approval, came out from behind the door and slowly came across to Amy who exclaimed, ‘He’s only got three legs, poor thing!’

‘He has had a bad time, but he’s really obedient and he can run the same as a normal dog.’ By now Amy was making a fuss of him and his tail began to wag enthusiastically.
‘What’s his name?’

‘Desmond,’ replied Augustus, and added, ‘The rescue centre said that they called him ‘Des’, but I thought that naming him after Desmond Tutu was much more appropriate.’ Amy laughed for the first time in a long while as she followed her brother into the hall, followed very closely by the padding of three paws.

Augustus said, ‘Let me show you around, it’s a grand old house.’ Amy made a face at which Augustus laughed. Augustus spotted the suitcases and, with one in each hand, bounded up the stairs. ‘I’ll show you to your room.’

Amy didn’t know what to expect. Augustus opened the door and then stood aside so she could go in first. As Amy stepped into the room, she took in the magnificent view of the huge four-poster bed. It had crisp clean sheets that immediately caught her attention. She looked around. A wide bay window made this one of the brightest rooms in the house. It was a huge room. Even the eight-foot bed seemed to be lost against one of the cream walls. ‘It’s delightful,’ said Amy, ‘it’s so clean.’

The old furniture was highly polished. As she opened one of the old oak wardrobes, the fragrance from the fluffy towels wafted over her. ‘You didn’t do all this, did you?’ said Amy turning to her brother and grinning at him.

‘No, I must own up, it wasn’t me. It was Mrs Battersby.’

‘Oh!’ said Amy, teasing her brother, ‘It’s a pity it’s not Miss Battersby.’

‘She is a widow,’ said Augustus.

‘So there’s hope for you yet!’

‘But she is nearly eighty,’ replied Augustus with a smile.

‘You certainly work them hard in the village, the taxi driver was in her seventies.’

‘I spoke to her when she came to Mrs Braithwaite’s. She thought the world of you. She said that there would be plenty of men, in the village, that would turn their cap to you.’
‘I’ve finished with men,’ replied Amy with finality. She knew Augustus wouldn’t rise to the bait. He just smiled, put his arm round her shoulder, and gave her a hug. Amy carried on, ‘How did she come to such a conclusion about me so quickly?’

‘Respect,’ said Augustus.

‘Respect?’ queried Amy looking confused.

‘Yes, you called her Mrs Rudd. Most people in the village call her Mavis, because she is the taxi driver. She doesn’t like it at all. She says it’s a lack of respect to call an old woman by her first name.’ Augustus went on, ‘Local village lore is that anyone older than you, you call Mr or Mrs, but anyone younger, you can call them by their first name.’

‘That’s a bit old-fashioned isn’t?’

‘This is an old and traditional village, as you are going to find out.’

‘Anyway why was she at Mrs Braithwaite’s? I thought that was the poor old lady who had died.’

‘She’d come to collect the body.’

‘In a taxi!’

Augustus laughed, ‘No, of course not! The Rudds are the village undertakers, as well as the taxi drivers.’

‘And while we are on that subject of this village, why did you want me to come here, you said on the phone it needed my skills?’

‘Yes, exactly right.’

Amy said, while grinning at her brother, ‘You want a fully qualified outdoor instructor, who is good at skiing, rock climbing and canoeing?’

‘You have other skills as well.’

‘Hmm... dare I ask?’

‘I really do want your organisational skills. Both of the church wardens sadly died a few months ago. I’m struggling to cope with all that is expected of me.’

She couldn’t hide the surprise in her voice, ‘You want me to be a church warden?’

‘Only if you want to be, but I rather you just helped out. The village festival week starts tomorrow.’

‘Yes,’ said Amy warily.

‘Could you do the home-made jam stall at the visitor’s centre tomorrow, also can you help me judge the best garden in the village at the weekend?’

Amy laughed and repeated, ‘A jam stall and garden competition?’

Augustus wasn’t daunted by her teasing and added, ‘I could do with some help in church on Saturday, as there is a big wedding.’

With that word, wedding, Amy turned to look out of the window, so that Augustus couldn’t see the expression on her face.