The Hadmere Players – Introduction

The Hadmere Players is our third Francesca Palandri mystery to be released. The small town of Hadmere is well-known for an amateur play titled The Water Ghost Beckons which achieved remarkable success a decade ago. As the ten-year anniversary approaches, the actors and director come together in Hadmere for a reunion that ends in tragedy…

Click here to start reading Day 1 now!

The Hadmere Players was a live mystery when it was released, allowing readers to comment and interact with the story as installments were published, and readers could send in their accusations before the culprit was revealed. Feel free to comment on the installments with your suspicions as you progress!

 

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The Pearl of Taiwan – Introduction

The Pearl of Taiwan is the first Wanderstuffed mystery to be released, featuring travel food writer Greg Newmark. During a Taiwanese adventure, Greg becomes caught up in the murder of a young woman. The Taiwanese police are on the case, but can Greg’s savvy observation skills help them solve this mystery?

Click here to start reading Day 1 of this mouth-watering mystery!

The Pearl of Taiwan was a live mystery when it was released, allowing readers to comment and interact with the story as installments were published, and readers could send in their accusations before the culprit was revealed. Feel free to comment on the installments with your suspicions as you progress!

 

Lornbridge Hills – Introduction

Lornbridge Hills is the second Francesca Palandri mystery to be released. This time, DCI Palandri explores a stuffy golf estate where the body of a young woman has been found. Can you work out whodunit as Francesca interviews the family members and surrounding neighbours?

Click here to start reading Day 1 now!

Lornbridge Hills was a live mystery when it was released, allowing readers to comment and interact with the story as installments were published, and readers could send in their accusations before the culprit was revealed. Feel free to comment on the installments with your suspicions as you progress!

 

The Hadmere Players – Part 7

“So, let me get this clear,” Detective Superintendent Mick said as he prepared himself a coffee with his dusty drip coffee machine, “You want to arrest two people?”

“That’s correct,” Francesca replied, sitting opposite Mick in his office. She could see snow falling lightly outside the window.

“Two people working together. Two players. Interesting…” Mick said.

“No, wrong on both counts there, Mick.”

“Two people working independently?”

“Yes. And that’s what really confused me at first with this case. When I realised I was dealing with two separate culprits who had two separate motives, it began to make sense. To add to the confusion, one of our culprits did try to kill both victims. But they were beaten to the second murder by culprit number two.”

Mick nodded slowly and took a gulp of coffee from a chipped mug. “Dan Argenta? Two people tried to kill him?”

“Exactly. Which explains the strychnine in the bread roll and the cyanide in the wine.”

“I see. And whoever used the strychnine also used it to poison Catherine. Spit it out, Fran. I need to send the call out to make the arrests.”

Francesca was expecting him to add ‘if your theory is correct’ at the end of his sentence. The fact that he didn’t made her smile. He was clearly confident that she had the case solved. She did have her history in Nutbourne and Lornbridge Hills to back her up, after all.

“Well, once I explain their motives you can arrest Zave Wilson and Darren Wilcross.”

Mick looked at her curiously. “Darren Wilcross? Wait a second, wasn’t he one of the witnesses? In Melinda’s, if I remember correctly? He was the one who-”

“The one who told Zave Wilson that he saw Dan put the sweetener in Catherine’s coffee.”

“So he incriminated Dan and then murdered him? What’s going on here?”

“I made an interesting discovery yesterday during my visit to Dan’s house in Richmond. Dan Argenta was gay. And very secretive about it, in order to protect his public persona. He used a string of very short relationships with women to cover up his sexuality. I met a man by the name of Michael Lemac at his house who claimed to be a friend. But it was clear he was more than a friend. I think he had recently become involved with Dan. It wasn’t hard to figure out the truth Dan had been hiding. And it made sense in the context of Dan’s relationship with Gareth Lawler. I was told by more than one person that after Gareth came out publicly, his friendship with Dan weakened. I believe that Gareth was upset that Dan was able to continue his successful life and career with his sexuality a secret but he couldn’t. Certainly some resentment there.”

“But who cares if they’re gay? What does it matter? Why keep it a secret these days?”

“Very progressive of you, Mick. Well, as sad as it is, it apparently still counts for something in showbiz. I bet you there are plenty of male celebrities in the closet because the truth would affect a casting director’s decision.”

And what does this all have to do with Darren Wilcross?”

“Well, Darren is also gay. I know that from my short meeting with him after Dan’s death. Now, how does that simple connection make him a murderer you’re wondering? Well it goes a lot deeper than that. Until very recently, Darren was in a relationship with Dan.”

“What? How do you know that?”

“It was a hunch. Darren, by his admission, could not keep his eyes of Dan Argenta in the cafe. This was not solely due to Dan’s looks. Darren and Dan had recently split up, so naturally Darren could not help but watch Dan closely when he entered the cafe, hurt and upset by the break up. Yesterday I just wondered if there was some sort of friendly connection, or infatuation, however I confirmed that Darren had recently ended a relationship by checking in at his work place, Hadmere Events, this morning. A colleague of his, Miriam Baker, told me how badly Darren had taken this. The break up happened the day before Catherine Ratcliffe died. Miriam Baker told me that Darren’s boyfreind lived in London, so Darren made frequent trips there. And he kept the relationship very secretive. No one had met his boyfriend, or even knew his name. Now, Hadmere is a small town. It’s not quite a ‘the only gay in the village’ situation, but it’s close. Darren and Dan meeting in Hadmere would not be far fetched. The day Catherine died, Dan ignored Darren in the cafe, or he didn’t even notice him – which is probably worse. Seething, Darren already had a desire for revenge before Catherine collapsed. Who wouldn’t feel upset? Dan was lapping up the attention from the locals and enjoying the reunion of a famous play, and Darren was sitting at the back of the cafe, ordinary and heart-broken. Dan had beeen two-timing him with Michael Lemac, and in the end had decided to go with Michael. After watching Dan pour sweetener into Catherine’s coffee, his revenge plan was clear – he could incriminate Dan by passing on this piece of information, whether Dan was guilty or not. I thought it was strange how he went to Zave Wilson rather than us, so I was always suspicious. I think that he was concerned the police would see through what he was trying to do – get Dan into trouble. So he played on the emotions of the shocked players, not realising that Zave had in fact killed Catherine.”

“Yet in the end he decided to go one step further than incrimate Dan and actually murder him instead – going for the ultimate revenge.”

“Right. I expect he realised that with one player dead and another reunion lined up at Farfalle – which he would have known all about from being with Dan, he could murder Dan and the suspicion would fall on whoever killed Catherine. Most people would surely think that Catherine and Dan’s were murdered by the same person! I did, at first. So he entered Farfalle the following day, was able to sneak upstairs and lace Dan’s favourite wine with poison. I knew only someone very close to Dan would have this knowledge about the Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Darren would have spent more than enough time in Dan’s Richmond townhouse to know this.”

“And Zave killed Catherine and Dan? Why?”

“Well, as coincidental as it sounded at first, the evidence began pointing to Dan and Catherine covering up a seriously incriminating incident. A hit and run, specifically, after a night out at one of their boozed up social events. Dan would drive Catherine home, often inebriated. Around the same time as their incident, Helen Burbank and her husband were knocked down in a hit and run in Notting Hill. I studied possible driving routes from the West End to Shepherd’s Bush, where Catherine lived. Dan and Catherine would have passed through Notting Hill every time. I realised that Catherine and Dan were responsible! Against the odds, they hit one of their fellow Hadmere players while driving under the influence! And what did they do about it? Nothing. They kept it to themselves, Catherine struggling with guilt far more than Dan. She was a mess, and it culminated in her affair with Benjy Mantle. Michael Lemac revealed that Catherine and Dan could often be found discussing Helen’s accident in angry or upset tones. Clearly, they were trying to protect each other and their careers, but it was tough going for them emotionally and mentally for a while. ”

“Incredible! It’s like some horrific sequel to that plays of theirs. What a bizarre turn of events. But Zave killed them? Not Helen? How does that make sense?”

“Well, Helen and Zave were the principal organisers of this reunion. I was already suspicious of them both at the very beginning. In the cafe, Zave made the drinks order at the bar and Helen used the toilets before the drinks arrived at the table. Both had the opportunity to quickly place a packet of poisoned sweetener on the player’s drinks tray at the bar as they walked through the restaurant. After figuring out Dan and Catherine were the ones who ran over Helen, Helen was of course my prime suspect. Could anyone else know what had happened, though? Who could piece it together? Bill Gregson mentioned to both Helen and Zave that Catherine had done something horrible. One of them could potentially connect the dots – look at the timelines and Catherine and Dan’s whereabouts on the evening Helen was hit. I wasn’t convinced Helen would consider this. Bill certainly wouldn’t. Zave, therefore seemed more likely. But why? Why would he kill them like this if he knew this awful piece of information? Why not approach them? Tell the police? And then it hit me. The Water Ghost Beckons. In this situation, Zave was the water ghost. He took on the role gladly. He knew a terrible secret about these two people and wanted to draw them close and punish them, just like the spirit through the fog. He lured them back down to Hadmere. I suspect he suggested the reunion in the first place. Then he killed them for the sins they had committed, still wrapped up in the success of his play a decade later. A recovering alcoholic, Zave’s glory days are behind him. That play was his peak and if there’s anyone out of those players who hasn’t moved on from it, it’s him. Bill and Helen still live in Hadmere, but Helen has had quite enough on her plate to deal with and Bill left that play behind the second he walked off the stage.”

“It went to his head a bit, to say the least?”

“Oh, I’m sure jealousy was involved also. Only Hana and Bill harboured no jealousy towards Catherine and Dan. As for killing Dan, it would have been easy for him to switch bread rolls just before everyone arrived, sneak back out and come back after a few of the others had arrived. He knew which table had been booked by Helen so he was able to swap over the correct gluten free roll. Dave hadn’t seen much of Dan lately but his gluten intolerance was common knowledge.”

“Pfft. Gluten intolerance… Well, Fran, let’s bring them down to the station, but it sounds like a well done needs to be said in advance here.”

“Thank you, Mick. It’s a hat trick, I suppose? But I think that will be all for the time being. No more small-town murder investigations just yet. I need some time away, a chance to focus on my personal life. Once this is all over I think I’m going to take Jeremy to Italy.”

“For a holiday?”

“Maybe, maybe not. He could find work in the furnishing industry easily over there. If he likes it, of course. Watch this space. For the short term, however, I have a holiday in medieval Japan lined up – all with cards, tokens and a game board in hand.”

“Enjoy it. Wrapping this case up before Christmas suits me also, so I’m not going to complain. Not sure how I feel about you leaving, Fran, but we can discuss that more in the new year. Now… it’s time to pay Zave Wilson and Darren Wilcross a visit.”

 

© Intrigue Inn

 

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The Hadmere Players – Part 6

With Christmas road traffic in mind, Francesca decided to take the train up to London the next morning. Hadmere still seemed full of Christmas cheer, despite the tragedies that took place just a few days earlier. People have their own lives to be getting on with, she considered, and if anything, Catherine and Dan’s deaths are great conversation starters. Who doesn’t love a scandal?

Patches of melting snow were scattered across green fields as the train rolled along. A thick fog permeated the air and through the fog Francesca could see an icy lake. She imagined a spectral figure on the other side of it… an elusive yet persuasive figure who wanted to tempt her onto the lake, where inevitably the millimetre thick layer of ice would crack and she would find herself submerged in the water. The layer of ice, so easy to crack when on top, would become an impenetrable barrier from below when fighting to stay alive… What festive thoughts, she thought, shuddering. Francesca planned to visit the Richmond and Shepherd’s Bush homes belonging to Catherine and Dan. She could also pay a visit to Gareth and Hana’s homes, too. Such selfish kids, Francesca thought. Probably feeling hard done by that yet again the attention has been taken away from them, and any attention they’ve received during this tragedy only has a negative connotation – with them as part of an unlikely suspect line up.

The train travelled past dark graffiti covered buildings as it approached Victoria station, the Shard and London Eye visible in the distance. Francesca picked up a sandwich at the station before jumping on the District line. It was packed. She realised that she and Bill Gregson were alike in at least one way – she absolutely preferred the quietness of small-town life. She made her way to the affluent suburb of Richmond. Once out of Richmond station, she walked past what seemed like an obscene amount of Italian restaurants until she arrived at Richmond Green. She located the white-brick townhouse. She had a warrant to search the premises and was told by Mick that a neighbour held a spare key for access. That was not necessary, however, as she spotted movement through a downstairs window. She knocked on the front door. A blonde haired man, late twenties possibly, opened the door sheepishly.

“Oh… can I can help you?”

“I’m DCI Francesca Palandri. I have a warrant to search Dan Argenta’s residence. Who are you, may I ask?”

“Ah, I’m a friend of Dan’s… I was just picking up some things.”

“Your things?”

“Yes, yes I had a few things here…”

“How did you get in? The neighbours?”

“The neighbours? What do you mean?”

“They have the spare key.”

“Oh, I see. Um, no, I have my own spare key. I’m not sure what’s happening to this house so I needed to come by sooner rather than later.”

“What’s your name?” Francesca asked, entering the house.

“Michael. Michael Lemac.”

“And you knew Mr. Argenta well? For a long time?”

“Well. Not too long. A few months. But we were good friends. This past week has been absolutely devastating, to say the least. ”

“Not too long, you say? Long enough for him to give you a spare key.”

Francesca looked around her. The house was airy, white and quite sparse. Francesca had the impression that Dan never spent too much time here.

“Maybe you can help me with some questions, Mr. Lemac. Dan moved into this house with his girlfriend at the time, didn’t he? Lucy Barnes. They were no longer in a relationship when he died, I think?”

“No, they weren’t together for too long at all, actually. They broke up quite a while ago.”

“So, Dan had the place to himself after that.”

“Yes, but he was out so often. He worked hard. He partied hard.”

“Yes. Often with Catherine Ratcliffe I’ve been told. Did you ever meet her?”

“I’ve met her several times. It’s true, they often attended parties together. They were extremely good friends. Mother and son like, to some extent.”

“They would leave the parties together too, I understand.”

“Yes. That always surprised me a bit… well, he drove her home a lot of the time I think. From the West End – where most of the parties took place – Shepherd’s Bush was on the way back home for Dan. But… I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to be in a car with Dan after he’d been to a party, personally.”

“Oh?”

“I mean, he partied hard, as I said. But when I met Catherine for the first time I could tell she had a soft spot for him. Blind eye, you know.”

“I hear. Did you ever feel they shared secrets with each other?”

“Secrets? I don’t know. I do know they helped each other out of a spell of depression they were both suffering. About a year ago.”

“I heard Catherine was depressed, but not Dan so much,” Francesca said curiously.

“Oh, well, I don’t know really…” Michael said vaguely. He picked up a fantasy book from a small table and added it to a large box of his belongings that he was rounding up.

“Sounds like you do know. Sounds like he had a rough time over something also. His parents did mention he had a ‘moody’ spell, but overall most people point to Catherine having struggled at this time, and Dan was there for her to confide in. To comfort her.”

“Oh, well, he just said he had a tough time. I don’t know the details. He has the better poker face, anyway. He has an image to protect, don’t you get that? Maybe that’s why Catherine’s rough patch was more obvious. She wore her heart on her sleeve.”

“It seems like it was important for Dan to protect his image, I’m realising. Quite a lot of your stuff here I see,” Francesca said, nodding at the box.

“Yes, it just accumulates I guess. This was a nice house to hang out in, you know. Dan often had guests over, not just me!”

“Sure. Did you ever meet any of the other Hadmere players besides Catherine?”

“No. They talked about them sometimes, but I never met any of the others.”

“Who did they talk about?”

“Well, Gareth and Helen mostly, I would say. Dan mentioned Gareth often as they were good friends. Before I knew Dan – that’s why I never met Gareth. If I had known Dan for longer I’m sure I would have.”

“Did Dan seem upset that they weren’t as close anymore? Did he give any indication as to what happened?”

“I think he was upset, yes. He thought it was a shame how they had drifted apart. But I think he was also angry at Gareth for not understanding Dan’s point of view.”

“Point of view in what?”

“Oh, well I couldn’t really say,” Michael answered unconvincingly.

“And they talked about Helen also, you said?”

“Yes. She had that horrible accident, didn’t she? They were very upset about it when it came up in conversation. I don’t think Catherine liked to talk about it, though. Probably because she knew how an accident like that can ruin a career. I mean, imagine if that had happened to Catherine!”

“It came up in conversation frequently?”

“It seemed to actually, yes. Not in front of me, necessarily. I often caught them discussing it. Quite animated discussions sometimes. Heated and emotional. She was their good friend, after all.”

“A good friend who they never saw in person after the accident?”

“Well, Helen lives all the way down in Hadmere.”

“I just travelled from near Hadmere this morning. It’s not that long a journey. Two hours at the most.”

“They were very busy!”

“Oh yes, attending all those parties of course. So, it sounds like maybe they were sharing secrets after all, no?” Michael shrugged. “Mr. Lemac, were you aware Dan was gluten intolerant?”

“Of course. Most people knew that. He was very strict about it. And vocal.”

“I see. And you mentioned he enjoyed drinking. Did he enjoy wine in particular?”

“Yes, I’d say it was his drink of choice. At home especially. He’d always be walking around this place with a glass of wine in his hand.”

“And you only know that from your visits here.”

“Um, yes.”

“Did he have a wine collection?”

“Yes, there are a couple of racks in the kitchen.”

“I’d like to see them.”

Michael nodded nervously and led Francesca towards the kitchen. On a large marble countertop there were two wooden wine racks. There were roughly a dozen bottles in total. She picked up one at random. It was a white – Chateau-Pape-Clement-Blanc. She picked a red. Chateauneuf-du-Pape. She showed Michael the bottle.

“This one. Did he drink this frequently at home?”

Michael studied the label. “I don’t really know all the names of the wines he drank. But the label is familiar. Yes, he liked this one I think.”

“And he wouldn’t really drink this type of wine at parties?”

“Well, at parties he would just drink whatever was available. Champagne, for example.”

“I see. And you say he had lots of guests in this house? That would come over as frequently as you?”

“Well, sometimes, yes.”

“And all those other guests would leave their belongings here, too? This house seems pretty empty to me.”

Michael was flustered. “Uh, I suppose I made myself more at home than the others…”

Francesca nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll leave you to it, Mr. Lemac. But I’ll likely want to speak to you more, so I’ll be needing your contact details. What do you do for a living?”

“I work in film production. I’m an assistant, really. I met Dan on the set of a film he was starring in.”

Francesca took Michael’s details. “Okay. Well, have a good day. I think you might need another box for your belongings there. That one is getting quite full.” She glanced at the box overflowing with clothes, toiletries, accessories, books, and games before she left. She planned on coming back later today to inspect the house after Michael had left. However, she wondered if she already had all the information she needed. Michael had revealed a lot of important details, mostly indirectly.

It was time for a spot of lunch, so Francesca decided to visit a bar along the river – the Thames ran through the heart of Richmond. As she wasn’t driving today she ordered a pint of Peroni with her meal – chicken livers and mash. She sat at the bar, mulling over the events of the last few days.

“You look like you’ve just escaped an office Christmas party,” the bartender remarked.

“Do I look that tired?” Francesca asked with a laugh.

“A bit. We had a guy in here last night who had had enough of his Christmas party, said he can’t stomach most of the people he works with… he bailed out and came here for few drinks.” He chuckled as he finishing drying a wine glass and placed on an oak lacquered shelf behind him.

“No Christmas party for me. I’m just up in London for the day. From Sussex. Near Hadmere.”

“Oh good Lord… where the murders happened?”

“That’s the one.”

“Oh wow, now I see what you’re escaping from! Although you know… Dan Argenta was murdered and he lives here in Richmond! So I think you’ve come to the wrong place to get away from all that. I’ve been following the story. I remember that play. The Water Ghost Beckons.”

“I always forget the impact that play had,” Francesca said.

“Oh, I just really liked the story. Weird parallel though, isn’t it?

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what happened to the characters in the story. Their deaths. And now the actors dying in real life. Terrible.”

“Well, in the play, the characters had all committed serious crimes or sins. That implies Catherine and Dan did the same in real life.”

“Who knows? It’s just interesting. And we wouldn’t know if they did, would we? If it was the same scenario as the play, I mean. Because the characters kept their sins a secret. Only the water ghost knew.”

“Exactly,” said Francesca as her food arrived, thinking about the story of The Water Ghost Beckons. She ate leisurely; she realised she was in no rush. She didn’t even need to visit Catherine’s house in Shepherd’s Bush. She was quite sure she had this mystery solved.

 

© Intrigue Inn

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The Hadmere Players – Part 5

Francesca had cleared her day to allow for interviews with the Hadmere Players. She still felt none the wiser when it come to Catherine and Dan’s deaths, and she knew that Gareth and Hana were itching to get out of the small town and return home. She was also personally itching to begin her Christmas celebrations with Jeremy. It would be her first Christmas in  along time where she had a great excuse to not spend it with her family. She would be able to eat and drink whatever she liked, and play some quality board games rather than an argumentative round of Scattergories in her parent’s house. Bates was busy compiling a report on the movements of all suspects at both Melinda’s and Farfalle. Francesca walked up the High Street, past the 12-foot tall Christmas tree in the town square, and turned right into Knoll Street. She knocked on the door of Helen Burbank’s town house, who let her in to a well-maintained home, just like the woman herself.

“I’ve been keeping to myself since the reunion,” she explained. “Tidying the house to busy myself. Staying away from all the festive activities – it just doesn’t feel right.”

Francesca asked Helen to tell her a little more about herself, and Helen recounted her comedy roots and aspirations, and how the accident had changed everything forever.

“Losing John left me completely useless. Everything had been going so well for us. And then a hit in run in Notting Hill. Wrong place, wrong time. John and I were staying with friends in Ladbroke Grove at the time. I was performing a string of small shows in Notting Hill and John was on business. The culprit was never found. We had been celebrating that night. John had pulled in a few lucrative deals and my shows had been met with excellent reviews. I tell you, the feeling of numbness I have now very much reminds of my mental state then. And that was only a year ago, so it’s not been a great 2018, to say the least.”

“I heard you managed to find solace in your music?”

“Yes, I have. And I’ve recently put on a few performances. The feedback has been marvellous, but I’m still struggling to move on from everything. I’m building myself back up again.”

“Were you looking forward to the reunion?”

“I’m not sure. I was wondering what we would all talk about. A decade is a long time. I haven’t seen some of them since I ended up in this chair. So, I was apprehensive, I suppose. It was surreal in a way, when I saw Dan and Catherine. They’re famous now. They seemed like different people to when I knew them during the play.”

“You obviously know now that a poisoned sweetener packet killed Catherine.”

“Yes, and the rumours that Dan emptied the contents into Catherine’s coffee. I wasn’t watching to be honest. I just came back from the loo and then we were making a toast, and all of a sudden Catherine started reacting to her coffee. It all happened so quickly.”

*

Bill Gregson’s flat above his shop was fairly spartan. He clearly was a man who didn’t enjoy small talk, which was fine by Francesca, but made her wonder why he opened up a shop in the first place – a business which one would think required a healthy dose of small talk with customers every day.

“If you’re looking for answers, I have nothing for you. Didn’t care for Dan much. Wouldn’t want him dead though. Didn’t know too much about him. Catherine, well, read what you want in the press about that.”

“You did hold an affection for her, though?”

“I liked her. Same age. Knew her the longest,” Bill said, not giving anything away. “Felt protective of her.”

“You must have been very worried during the press scandal due the affair, then.”

“Obviously. Don’t know what got into her head. She was a mess around that time. Had been for several weeks.”

“I heard she’d been keeping a low profile before the affair.”

“Something had spooked her. Don’t know what. She was upset. I know Dan was there to support her. I reckon he knew what was going on. Got a call from her once, you know. After I spoke to the paparazzi and defended her.”

“Oh? What did she say?”

“Just said thanks. She was in tears. She said she should never have done it. With Benjy Mantle. But she told me something horrible had happened, so she was all over the place. Never told me what, but I think she wanted to. She hesitated quite a bit. Well, I mentioned this to Zave and Helen when they visited the shop. Zave doesn’t come in often at all, Helen is in quite frequently however, picking up one thing or another. I was concerned that something bad had happened to Catherine. Didn’t dwell on it too much with Helen, her accident was still quite fresh at that time. Well, Cath was back on her feet soon enough. Was in a big TV hit recently.”

Dance, Mary, Dance.

“Yep. And then the reunion. Helen and Zave were the key organisers there, I just went along with it all. Wasn’t keen. Couldn’t really get out if thoough could I. Melinda’s and Farfalle both just around the corner. But I had no interest in catching up with the London lot. Not Dan’s biggest fan as I said, and I didn’t have a lot of time for Gareth and Hana either. All seemed a bit pointless to me. And of course now I wish it had never been organised.”

*

Zave Wilson made Francesca a strong Lavazza coffee and offered her some chicken gumbo leftovers which she appreciated but declined.

“You’ve been busying yourself cooking?” She asked.

“Yes. I’m not a huge cook, but it’s a been a good distraction these last few days.”

“I noticed a bottle of opened wine in the kitchen, but I heard you’re tee-total these days?”

“Well, I was, until Dan’s death… That was more for a guest, anyway. Bill came to visit me last night, you see. He’s concerned about how it all looks for him. You know, his feelings on Catherine and all.”

“He seemed quite put-together when I saw him earlier today,” Francesca remarked.

“Well, he puts on a stoic attitude. That’s his way. He’s rattled.”

“I heard he was quite rattled during Catherine’s affair also. She told him something horrible had happened.”

“Yes… he mentioned it to me in the shop back then. Cannot imagine what. I expect Dan knew, but you can’t ask him now…”

“Tell me a bit more about The Water Ghost Beckons. I remember the acclaim when it came out. What inspired you to write this story?”

“Oh, well, I suppose I’ve always been interested in small-town dynamics. And the fact that there’s always more going on under the surface than you would think! I always loved the idea of an atmospheric, foggy setting on stage too. Very ominous. Deepest-darkest Dorset. We got good use out of the smoke machine during the play, I can tell you. I had been doing some research around the time on Korean and Japanese mythology. That’s where my idea for the water ghost came from. A judge of sorts, I liked that – there to reveal and punish all the characters for the sins they had committed and kept to themselves.”

“Theft, violence, even rape if I remember rightly?”

“Yes…it was quite heavy stuff, wasn’t it? But I think that’s why it worked. Plus our brilliant cast, of course.”

*

Francesca interviewed Gareth and Hana together as they were both staying at the same bed and breakfast.

“After this interview, can we leave? I need to get out of this b&b,” said Gareth, exasperated. “What more use could we be to you?”

“He’s right,” Hana chimed in. “We’re victims too, in a way! Watching our friends die! Right in front of us. I was speaking with Catherine right when she collapsed, you know!”

“I’m afraid we will need you for just a bit longer. You do understand you’re suspects?’

“It’s ridiculous. How could we have done this. Poison in a sweetener packet and then in a bottle of wine… That’s all a bit too extravagant for me. I have nothing against Dan and Catherine,” Gareth said firmly.

“I did hear you and Dan were friends but had a falling out? After your coming out publicly?”

Gareth went a little red in the face. “You know how the media exaggerates. I was just a little annoyed he wasn’t there for me, that’s all. He was busy swanning around London, off to all the best social functions, often with Catherine in tow. He didn’t spare too much time to see how I was doing. And that was a very difficult time for me.”

“All their west end parties! Alright for some,” said Hana. “Enjoying his Richmond penthouse! He was in a world of his own most of the time, I think.”

“Would you say Dan was hedonistic, then?”

“He liked a drink. I know that,” answered Hana. “Catherine too. How they made it home some nights I do not know. And then ready to perform the day after! I like a cleaner lifestyle. I have to stay alert for my nature show. And keep my body in shape for any potential modelling bookings. Those parties are so pretentious, anyway.”

“The two of you have remained good friends, it seems. Since all the press coverage about your relationship?”

“I just felt stupid,”Hana said. “I was angry with Gareth for ignoring me when it came out that I liked him. Romantically. Then when Gareth told me he was gay it all made sense. No harm done. I felt so silly for my reaction. And now we just laugh about it! Don’t we, Gareth?”

“Oh, er, yes. Sure,” replied Gareth. “Look, detective, there’s not much more we can say. You should be up in London if you want to find out more, not down here in this miserable place.”

He was right, and Francesca had already prepared for a trip to London tomorrow. She was hoping for some useful information in either Catherine or Dan’s homes or their local haunts. She was starting to put a theory together, and just needed more concrete evidence.

 

© Intrigue Inn

 

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The Hadmere Players – Part 4

The week was full of Christmas spirit and the office Christmas party was looming for Hadmere Events.  Things were winding down in the office, despite the multitude of Christmas events on their way; they had all been organised and planned in November and now it was simply a case of confirmation and final touches. The annual candlelight parade had already taken place midweek with typical success, and tonight carol singing and busking in the town square was to be expected. Darren had been heavily involved in organizing it. Now, he suddenly found himself with a lot more time to himself. He had been expecting to make several trips up to London over the next few weeks. But now he had no boyfriend to visit, and no other reason to make the journey. Some workers felt sorry for Darren when he told them he had no real plans for Christmas anymore. They were already treating him with fragility after he witnessed Catherine Ratcliffe’s death.

“You’ll be spending Christmas with your parents then now, I suppose? I think you should Darren, after what you saw in Melinda’s,” one of his older co-workers, Miriam, asked.

“I could…” Darren pondered. “But it’s just not that exciting is it? They live in Nutbourne. Depressing Christmas. Small-town boredom…” He seemed deep in thought.

“Why?” Asked Miriam. “What’s wrong with it? You’re just not satisfied unless you’re in the big smoke, I think. I can tell you want more from life, Darren. I mean, look at the Hadmere players for example, swanning about here. I bet you’d like to be more like them. But look what happened! Complete tragedy. Two of them dead. The high life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know.”

“That’s true. It isn’t, is it?”

“And now we pay the price! Hadmere Events will have to work twice as hard in the new year to cover up this mess. To bring joy back into this town. It’s going to be a long recovery. You should feel satisfied, Darren. You have a great job, and this a lovely town. Enjoy Christmas with your parents!”

“I’ll try, Miriam. I’ll try.”

*

Francesca and Bates were on their way to Sentel Road, home of Mr. and Mrs. Argenta. They had received confirmation that Dan had been gluten intolerant, and kept to a strict gluten free diet for roughly five years.

“I was thinking,” said Francesca, “That to know Dan was gluten free, you’d have to know him, but not especially well. Reasonably so. I mean, you could probably find that out on the internet if you were a fan of his. To know that he enjoyed expensive wine, in particular Chaeauneuf-du-Pape, you would have to know him even better, however.

“So the person who killed Dan was quite close to him? And poisoned both the bread and the wine? Just to double the chances I suppose. In case he didn’t touch the bread, or didn’t order that wine…”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

“Not sure why our murderer used two different poisons though…” Bates commented curiously.

They arrived at the small terraced home of the Argenta’s. Given Dan’s fame, Francesca was surprised the Argenta’s still resided here. Mrs. Argenta looked weary as she let them in.

“I’m sure you’ve been receiving a lot of support,” Francecca said as she indictaed they sit down on a dusty sofa. 

“Well… support! More like attention! Today is one of the first days the press hasn’t tried to intrude. We can barely grieve in peace. He wasn’t even staying here with us while he was down for the bloody reunion! God, I’ve been wishing every second that he had just stayed up in London…”

“He came to visit you, though? I mean, you had a good relationship with your son?”

“Of course. He just, I don’t know, he has a different life now. Had…”

“He supported you and your husband? Financially?”

“Well, cheques in the mail yes. Every month. He never missed a month, apart from when he went through that moody spell last year.”

“Oh?”

“I don’t know. He never said what the problem was. He tried not to let it show. I don’t think most people noticed. But a mother always knows! It wasn’t a career thing – he’d just landed a part in that gangster film. So I put it down to a girl thing. His relationships were always so short lived though, so who knows.” 

“Do you have any idea why this could have happened?”

“People were jealous, it’s quite clear. It’s a good thing I haven’t seen any of those other ‘actors’ in town – I know they’re around. I walked past Gregson’s the other day and felt like marching in. For all I know that man killed my son. Luckily for him he wasn’t there. It’s jealousy, pure and simple! What other reason? Catherine was murdered too, and she’s the only other successful one. And Dan and Catherine were so close. He used to tell me how he would drive Catherine around everywhere in London. They would attend parties  – they loved a drink together. Film premieres as well, you know. He would always pick her up and drop her off back home. She lived in Shepherd’s Bush, I believe. Dan had the looks, the good TV roles, the nice house… And I hear some of those players are quite bitter. What nasty creatures… to do something like that out of spite.”

“It may not have been one of the Hadmere players.”

“Maybe. It’s horrible to think. Perhaps it was someone else, a random attack, someone who managed to sneak into that restaurant. I don’t know what’s more frightening – the thought that one of his supposed friends and former colleagues killed him, or that a madman is running around Hadmere poisoning famous people’s drinks… My poor son, what a waste.”

“Well, Dan achieved more success than most people his age, more than most people achieve in his lifetime.”

“He was a lucky boy. His looks served him well and he landed good parts.”

“He was very talented,” Bates reassured her. 

“Oh, I don’t know. I think it was more his charm that opened doors. But he was also a very private person. I feel like I really didn’t know him well, sometimes. He was good at showing you the version of himself he wanted you to see, you understand? Putting on a show, every day. Well, that would be his charm. He could always switch it on and get what he wanted.”

“You knew of no one who didn’t like him?”

“I don’t know how it works up in the acting world but I can guess. You have to be a bit ruthless in that businesses. I wouldn’t doubt that Dan, and Catherine too, had to tread on a few toes to get to where they were. And you know, Dan and Gareth Lawler used to be quite good friends. But I don’t think they were going out together much recently. Maybe they fell out, I’m not sure. There’s the jealousy, obviously, but it was more than that. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.”

“You think your son was ruthless? In his ambitions?”

“We loved our son, and naturally we were incredibly proud. Who wouldn’t be? But he could be a bit pushy. We noticed a change in him too. Gradually becoming more and more self-entitled. He became the kind of person who wouldn’t let anyone or anything get in his way of success. It was a shame, but I suppose all the young guys and girls who shoot to stardom let it go to their head a bit. So, no big deal. I figured his head would shrink back to normal over the years…” 

“I understand. Show business is a funny thing, and I’m sure can do funny things to people.”

She shrugged in agreement. Francesca and Bates expressed their sympathies and left the Argenta residence.

*

It turned out that making a roux was not as easy to master the first time round as Zave expected, and he swore under his breath as he stirred it for what felt like the millionth time. He could have eaten out, but keeping a low profile in Hadmere was really the best option these days. If the stares weren’t bad enough – just because he was implicated by association, people were now formulating their own theories and the general consensus was that one of the other players had committed both crimes, not someone else who had been in either the café or restaurant. He checked the recipe again. Leave to boil for one hour. Add the chicken and simmer for a farther hour. Two hours! He added the stock, vegetables and pre-cooked smoked sausage and left the gumbo to boil, when suddenly the doorbell rang.

When he opened the door, It was the gruff face of Bill Gregson that greeted him, who had never in the previous ten years since they worked together visited him alone at his house. The only time had been as part of a group with others for work on the play, and a toast to success after the London show dates were announced. He had seemed a little uncomfortable then – the play was clearly getting out of hand for Bill and the newfound attention made him an awkward mess. In subsequent years Bill had learnt how to deal with the attention, how to remove himself from it in the best way and still live in Hadmere – to the point that no one really put the connection to him any longer – it was as if most people had dissociated him with the other Hadmere Players. He had gained control over his life, necessary for him as a creature of habit who wanted a simple life.

“Bill!”

“Zave, I’m sorry, I should have called maybe. I just- I just really need to talk to someone about all this. Someone in the same boat.”

Zave wondered initially why he hadn’t gone to Helen instead, she was the talker, she would have been perfect. And then he realized. This conversation would revolve around Catherine and his feelings, and he would prefer to speak to another man about that.

“Well, I’m just cooking some gumbo that I’ve discovered needs another 2 hours… so this a great timing. You must take some with you home, if it doesn’t turn out to be a disaster.’

“You’re pretty good at everything you try Zave, so I doubt it.”

“Hmm. Try telling that to all my plays after Water Ghost.”

“I don’t really want to think about that play right now.”

“Of course not. One second, Bill.”

He went into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of Chianti and poured two glasses. He thought about Dan’s poisoned wine as he poured, and shook his head confused. Who could have done that? Who knew to poison that particular bottle of wine? It had been on his mind since they all saw Dan collapse at the dinner table in Farfalle. Zave was completely shocked. They’d all barely sat down and ordered drinks, it was completely unexpected. He sighed, tried to shake the thoughts of the Chateauneuf out of his head and brought the glasses out to the lounge.

“Oh no Zave! You’re….”

“Can you blame me?”

“But Zave, you have to be careful.”

“I will be. It’s been five years and I can handle myself right now.”

“Hmm,” said Bill unconvinced, sipping his wine.

‘How have you been the last couple of days, Bill? I’m sorry, to be honest I’ve been avoiding town most of the time. I didn’t know if it would be good for you, Helen and I to meet up.”

“I don’t know. But if we do meet up it shouldn’t be in Hadmere. Everyone is watching. I’ve had the shop closed since yesterday.”

‘Yeah, you’re right about that. A lunch someone else. Maybe not even at a restaurant. I’m more than happy to do it here.”

“Oh, I’m sure Helen would oblige also. Zave, the worst thing about this is that it puts a big GUILTY sign over my head. Perfect crime of passion right there. And now, I can hardly move round in the town without feeling afraid. And on top of that. I’m still alive… and she’s not. My God… Zave, smiling one minute, and the next…”

“Yeah. I know. I cannot get the images of the two of them out of my head. Unsuspecting… unaware.”

“I need to know who did this. My money is on Gareth and Hana. The scheming duo. I’m sure of it. The most jealous pair of us all. And we would never think they would work together on such a plot after the whole love drama and rejection… which, I suspect, was all set up for press attention anyway…”

“Wait, so you reckon they’re a secret couple?”

“I don’t know about that, Maybe, maybe not. But they colluded together alright, it makes perfect sense.”

“Is jealousy enough motive though..?”

“You’d be surprised, Zave, what simple emotions can do. Jealousy is a vicious, vile creature…”

Zave knew what he was talking about. Catherine and her affair with Benjy Mantle. Imagine what Bill must have thought, selling the gossip magazines with pictures on the front page of the pair on a beach in the Canary Islands!

“I remember how I was feeling before I heard about that affair,” Bill said. “Catherine was keeping a low profile. I think she was depressed. Well, you remember what she told me, don’t you? Helen had her accident. Gareth being forced to come out publicly. Hana being made to look like a fool in the media. It wasn’t a fun time.”

“Yes, not a good era for us players.”

“I don’t really blame Cath for the affair… I suppose she’d hit a brick wall in her career, was a bit unsure of herself, the roles she was taking… well, that’s what she told me.”

“But her career was doing just fine.”

“True. I did wonder if she was hiding something. She seemed… so full of regret. It was strange. I bet Dan knew what was going on. They were spending even more time toegther then, if I remember rightly. But nothing seemed wrong with him.”

“Nothing ever seemed wrong with him.”

“Yes. So different from Gareth who has always been a sensitive soul. I just wish I knew Catherine. Like Dan knew Catherine. I was jealous of their relationship, I suppose. I’m sorry, Zave. I know what kind of let-downs you’ve had in your life too, and here I am going on about my issues.”

“Your problems are no lesser than mine, Bill. It’s one thing I’ve come to understand. As we’ve all gone off on our separate paths. We all face problems in our lives; it’s how we deal with them that’s the real issue. How we deal with the consequences of our actions. You always knew your way Bill, you knew what you wanted. Well, in the case of your love life, perhaps not… But you’ve always been so sure of yourself. I like that.” 

“I like consistency. I’ve had a nice life. And I can be happy for Catherine that she lived a wonderful life.”

“She lived a charmed life, she reached great heights and no one can say that her years were wasted. Dan’s also.”

“I think I should go. Thanks for the wine. I won’t stay for gumbo, it sounds a bit too foreign to me. Let’s organise that dinner soon, though.”

 

© Intrigue Inn

 

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