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!

 

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 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.

 

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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.

 

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