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…”
“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.”
“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.
“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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