Lornbridge Hills – Day 3

Samantha and Peter Burbank’s home is a rather in your face, gaudy affair, much like Samantha Burbank herself. Peter, on the other hand, has a style more akin to what some would label ‘hipster’. I’m having Indigo Bar flashbacks. I enter their spacious living room, home to a rather peculiar variety of paintings and ornaments – a grotesque gargoyle formation on the mantelpiece and a surreal painting of a rock band performing naked, among other assorted atrocities of ‘art’. There is also quite the wine collection on a set of wooden shelves near the back of the room and a decorative flower arrangement on the dining table which is a bit over the top – hibiscus, rhododendrons, echinacea and chrysanthemums. I can smell them from the other side of the room. Peter notices me observing and begins the conversation.

Ah, I see you’ve noticed our interesting collections… we like to keep things a little different. We hope the new home will be even more eclectic. We are planning to construct a new house on the grounds here. The building itself will be quite striking in style, also. It’s just a bunch of limestone right now.”

We’re property developers, you see,” says Samantha. “Thought it about time to develop our own! A glass of wine, detective?” She points to the extensive wine collection.

I decline the offer of wine and bring up the subject at hand: Sian. I ask if they knew her well.

Peter answers first. “Not too well, but sometimes she did come and visit us. Not so much recently, but she used to enjoy our company. I guess we’re a little younger than some of the other neighbours around here. Maybe not quite as pretentious, you know? I mean, we haven’t been here for centuries like the Mortons, although lovely people they are, so we’re a bit more… worldly, I suppose. She liked that. Didn’t like spending a lot of time at her own home, I don’t think. She appreciated Samantha’s style and she loved that I used to be in a rock band. We all have pretty similar music tastes. I couldn’t believe it when she said she knew Thought Riot! Right, Sam?”

Um, those are the ones from Finland?” Samantha asks, looking confused.

What? No! Who are you thinking of?” Peter shakes his head. “Well, it was pretty cool talking about these bands with her. Kind of got me back into the whole punk scene a bit…”

“And she just LOVED my alternative style,” Samantha chimes in eagerly. “I think she really liked to think outside the box, just like me.”

I’m not sure I would classify Samantha’s sense of style as alternative as much as nightmarish. I find myself drifting, humming the Cinema Paradiso score once more in my head. Time to leave.

After the film last night, Jeremy nervously took me to a small gelato pop-up near the cinema. He was worried I’d turn my nose up at an anglicised gelateria, but I couldn’t fault it. I taught him about stracciatella as he pointed out a few of his local haunts. I couldn’t help but hope that soon they might become my haunts, too. 

*

Quite unlike the bold stylings of the Burbank residence, the home of Juno and Serafina Morton is plain and fairly characterless. Serafina Morton invites me in, a little surprised. She is an ordinary looking woman in her mid thirties with mousy brown hair.

Sorry, we don’t normally have visitors… wasn’t expecting anyone. I don’t mind at all, of course, just a bit of a shock for mum I expect. She’s in the study. But naturally, given the circumstances…. sit down, sit down. I was just tending to the flowers in the garden. We have so many to look after.”

I ask a little about the Mortons and then proceed to enquire about Sian.

Well, I work at the bank.” She says it simply, her hands outstretched, like there’s nothing more to it – her job or her existence. “Mum used to, too. But she’s here at home now. She just can’t go out much. Agoraphobia you see… it’s very crippling in it’s own way. She’s had it for years and it’s just getting worse and worse. But I’m here to take care of things just like I take care of everything at my second home, the bank. My father was very well off when mum met him. He bought this house outright. Now that he’s passed, it’s up to me to look after mum and the house.”

“Does Sian’s death surprise you, Serafina?” I ask.

“Well yes, it’s surprising in the way any death would be. Especially when it’s on your doorstep. I’ve lived here my whole life almost and nothing like this has ever happened. But is is surprising that it was Sian? If I had to pick someone around here…”

“Why do you think that?”

Well, I didn’t know Sian particularly. Didn’t really know any of the Kowlinski’s too well. But you hear stories, and you see what she looks like… the get up on her, gallivanting around, up to no good most of the time.” She shakes her head. “Troubled girl, I guess. Troubled family life maybe! Her dad leaving! He died I think. I forget. Stepfather takes his place. She gets on wonderfully with Joseph though, so I hear. I heard she went on a trip to Europe recently too. Italy, Germany and Greece. Her mother mentioned her itinerary. How lovely. I’m glad she got to see some of the world before she.. Well…” She stifles a small sob.  

*

Margaret Haverford opens the door. She’s small, compact and proper. Old money, and she looks the part. She invites me in and offers me honey tea, which I gladly accept. The house is smart and restrained, like her closely confined greying hair. I notice several pictures on the wall, some of Margaret with a man who must be her husband Mitchell, and others of the two of them with various children. Outside the window is a nearly completed outdoor pavilion. It looks like it just needs a few finishing touches. A few patio stones still need to be fixed in place, as well as the loose iron posts of a fence. Irrigation ditches have been mostly filled. It does look lovely, I have to say. Margaret smiles slightly and answers my unspoken questions.

“Mitchell and I wanted to renew our vows next year and we wanted to do it in a private place. He surprised me with this. It’s been difficult for my garden, especially my poor rhododendrons. But I’m a great believer in patience, time and understanding, detective. That’s the only thing that got Mitchell and I through 25 years of marriage. Are you married, detective?”

I shake my head as I’m guided to sit down on the outdoor terrace overlooking the beautiful garden. Margaret places a cup of hot tea in front of me.

“I’ve been drinking tea practically non-stop since Aisling told me. Dear me. In an estate like this, it’s really the last thing you would expect. Oh, Sian…” She bites her lip. “I daren’t even imagine how they’re dealing with it next door. Sian and I were quite close.” She notices me looking around, back into the house. “Oh, the pictures? Mitchell and I run a fund for unprivileged children. Lost Stars. It started as a small project and now it’s my full time job! I take care of most of the administration for Mitchell, and since he’s in Interlaken, some of the older children we’ve helped to graduate perform duties for the office. Mitchell is away for nearly half the year, you see. He owns a corporate tax firm with offices there. He left less than a week ago when I was up in Marrington for the Lost Stars benefit I was hosting there. It’s such a shame he couldn’t come, I mean it’s his benefit too. Gosh, that was just a couple of days before Sian was found.” She shudders. “So yes, six months here and six months in Switzerland for Mitchell – alright for some, isn’t it? Is it ideal? Perhaps. We’ve stayed together for so long, detective, probably because we get to spend half a year apart missing each other.”

I think that just living in Lornbridge Hills by itself is more than alright for some. I ask more questions about Sian.

“Well the thing about Sian is she really became an extension of the project. Now there was a girl in need of an intervention if I ever did see one. Poor girl. She was really doing so well. We used to chat in the front garden from time to time and she started to become interested in what Mitchell and I were doing, you see. She helped out with Lost Stars and often opened up to us. Her grades and attitude began to really improve. Johanna Howell wasn’t really convinced, but I could see some definite changes in her. Aisling just needed to take a real interest in her daughter, but she’s so consumed with her own social life. When the time came for her to choose a University, I of course suggested London for a young, confident girl and Joseph agreed. But she insisted on staying here, attending a local college. That’s when she started to withdraw. She stopped confiding in me, stopped visiting. I assumed that she was dealing with the stress of being young in this corrupt world. I wish I had known where her behaviour was leading.”

I thank Margaret and decide it’s time to leave, I’m feeling a little heady from the sweetness of the tea and need some fresh air. One more resident to go.

*

Johanna Howell immediately strikes me as a bustling, gung-ho, no-nonsense kind of woman. She’s dressed in tweed and walks me through her busy looking household. There’s golf paraphernalia everywhere.

“Come in, come in! That’s it. Shoes off please, detective, lovely. I always take mine off so I don’t bring in too much sand and dirt from the golf course. Coffee?” She points to an armchair in the lounge indicating I should sit down.

I accept the offer of coffee almost meekly, after Margaret’s slightly sickly tea I’m not keen but it seems best to acquiesce to a woman like Johanna and sit down where I’ve been ordered to. A minute later she’s back and puts a mug down on the coffee table in front of me before taking her own seat.  

“Well it’s terrible news of course,” She begins. “No one can deny that. But let me get this out the way now detective, before you hear it from someone else – my thoughts are pretty common knowledge around here.” This fact doesn’t surprise me. “That girl was bad news. I’m sorry things had to end this way for her, really I am, but I’m not altogether surprised. Drink your coffee before it gets cold, my dear!” I continue to sip the scalding liquid as she continues her barrage. “I don’t really know what kind of things Sian got up to, but one thing I do know is she got around a bit, if you know what I mean.” She pauses for a minute, apparently lost in her thoughts. “Yes… she liked the attention did Sian.”

I ask a little more about Johanna. I read on Bates’ notes that she’s a professional golf champion and apologise for not being familiar with the sport.

“Well that’s a shame, detective. We need more women of your age getting into the game. I’m retired now. Still get all my practice in on these lovely grounds Mr. Cho maintains so nicely for us. Bless that man. But I’m also quite preoccupied being on the regional council these days. I’m on the Board of Trustees for the course here and estate too. Busy, busy, that’s the way I like it! No quiet retirement for me!” She shoves a plate of biscuits in my direction.Shortbread, detective? Take three. You look exhausted. Clarissa Neal gave them to me and they’re quite terrible, I’m trying to get rid of them.” She gives a bark of a laugh. “Giving me shortbread biscuits to try and butter me up, literally, so she can get her own way with this dreadful sounding Chianti and charcuterie gala of hers coming up! Just like her to do that! She’s given me a bunch of her rhododendrons and pansies, too. Well I already have enough of those in my garden! I’m also involved with the organisation of events around here like Clarissa, you see, and we don’t always see eye to eye. Margaret’s got the right idea by having little to do with that family. Hah! Now there’s a woman with real class, not whatever Clarissa Neal thinks class is! And don’t even get me started on Samantha Burbank…”

We chat a little more about golf while I wait for my coffee to cool down. When it’s finally a more manageable temperature I knock it back, thank Johanna and leave. There’s certainly an interesting mix of personalities residing at Lornbridge Hills. The question is, are they all being truthful with me?

 

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