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Murder Bites

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Murder Bites

The Vampire Mysteries – Book 1

Lyra Barnett

Twisted Tomes Publishing

Contents

1. Muffins & Murder

2. What a D.I.C.

3. Parents…

4. Police and Poison

5. Opportunity

6. House Mates

7. Piles of Paperwork

8. A Haddock in Hot Water

9. Lunchtime Wine

10. The Widow

11. Guests for Dinner

12. New Evidence

13. Unravelling

14. Doubts

15. Reality Bites

16. A Penny Drops

17. High Drama

18. Crowd Pleasing

19. Making Dates

20. A Great Offer

21. Making Choices…

Get the next in series… free!

Copyright © 2016 by Lyra Barnett

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

Twysted Tomes Publishing

www.LyraBarnett.com

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

For three special oddities…

1

Muffins & Murder

“You could be a diving instructor!” Betty said, biting into her muffin. “You said you went diving in Egypt that time.”

“Once!” I said laughing. “And anyway, we live about as far away from the coast as you can get in England, I don’t think I’d find the customers somehow.”

Betty tapped her lips with a finger.

“Hmm, good point.” She was clearly deep in thought, which for Betty was only deep enough to paddle in.

“Well, Sandra will retire soon and give up all her secrets to me, so we can run this place together.”

I nodded and took a sip of coffee. Betty and I had both worked in the Whole Latte Love Café for the last ten years. From the age of sixteen when we had joined fresh from school. The thought of working here for another ten didn’t exactly fill me with joy. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the place, but I wanted something I could really get my teeth into (which believe me, means something coming from me).

I’d always felt like there was something else that I needed from life, but had never really known what it was. Instead, I’d spent my days gliding through life aimlessly.

Betty though, she was in her element. Despite her annoyingly perfect hourglass figure (mine was less hourglass and more ruler), she loved cooking and baking, and was desperate to learn the secrets of our boss and longtime ‘second-mum’ figure, Sandra Carter.

“So, he’s arrived,” Betty said, swirling the spoon in her coffee cup distractedly.

“Who?” I asked, taking another bite of the still warm muffin which I held in front of me in a serviette. Delicate vanilla sponge with a chocolate orange, gooey middle which oozed out as you bit into it. Absolute heaven, and one of the main reasons that people flocked to the Whole Latte Love in Stumpwell.

Betty had a tendency to mix up conversations she’d had with different people, as though she assumed everyone was somehow privy to all the bits of information that she was. Often I’d arrive in the café for her to start talking to me halfway through a conversation she’d just left off with someone else, leaving me to catch up and work out what was going on. It was… interesting.

“The new DCI obviously. You know that they’ve been waiting for a replacement since old John left.”

I knew alright. It was pretty much all my mum and dad had been talking about since John Slater, the former Detective Chief Inspector assigned to the small station that passed for a police presence in the town of Stumpwell, had decided to retire. A new police chief was not good news for my family, they tended to ask questions…

“Yeah, I remember, so what’s he like?”

“Tall, good looking and a chest you could spread out on like a king sized mattress,” Betty answered, as she knocked the sugar bowl from the table with her elbow. I sighed and took another sip of coffee as I watched her stoop to recover the rogue cubes.

Betty Haddock was an enigma wrapped in a caramel coloured bombshell. She could have been a supermodel if it wasn’t for her complete lack of grace, poise and often, balance. It was like watching Naomi Campbell playing Stan Laurel with an inner ear problem.

“I meant, what’s he like as a policeman?” I said as she returned to the table.

“Oh who the hell cares about that when he looks like… Oh…” She looked around conspiratorially. “You mean because of your family’s… thing.” She gave a wink about as subtle as a brick through a window and leaned forward. “I hadn’t thought about that, is your dad worried?”

It had always made me slightly uncomfortable, but right from when we first met at primary school, Betty had had a bit of a crush on my dad. For starters, he was over a hundred years older than her, a bit of an age gap by anyone’s standards. Secondly, he was a vampire, like me. It wasn’t beyond the imagination to picture Betty stood in a billowing white nightdress as a dark figure swooped in through her open bedroom just as the moonlight caught her soft bare neck, but that wasn’t my dad. As desperate as he was to be what he saw as a ‘traditional vampire’, he was more woolen cardigan than black cloak.

I shook the thought from my mind and leaned forward over the table.

“They both are. They’re talking about selling up and moving away. “

“What?!” Betty’s dark almond eyes widened with shock. “They can’t! What would you do?!”

Though I resented the implication that I was so reliant on my parents that them leaving would ruin me, it was unfortunately true. To my great shame, at the age of twenty six I was still largely unemployed and living at home with my parents. In my defence, finding any sort of employment risked exposure, so the younger members of families like mine tended to wait a while before making a move out on their own. With our average age being over a century, time was on our side.

“I’d be fine, thank you very much.” I gave her a pointed look. “Look, this is how it is for us. We have to keep moving and starting over.” This was another sad truth. Living to an average age of one hundred and fifty was likely to raise eyebrows in any case, but that’s before you get to the fact that for some reason the un-dead (of which my family is exclusively made up of), never seem to physically age beyond about fifty five. After a while, you had to move on before people started looking at you funny and funny looks are only a hop, skip and jump from lighting torches and grabbing pitchforks.

“Even if they did leave, I wouldn’t have to go. I’d just need to find some more money from somewhere.”

“Well no, you’re not going anywhere. I won’t let you.” Betty reached across and squeezed my shoulder as she stood up. “Look, I’ve got to get on, but let’s talk later.” She sighed as she began to walk back to the counter.

“Bring me another muffin will you?” I called after her, making her half turn and bump into the back of a man in a wax jacket, knocking him forward in his chair and making him spray muffin across the table from his mouth. She really was a clutz. She apologised to the customer and then, as she passed behind him, fanned her face dramatically at me and mouthed the word ‘hot’ at me and pointed. I glanced down. She was right, the man was pretty gorgeous. A dark mess of hair sat above deep set brown eyes. I turned away from the man as he noticed me staring and looked out of the window.

The café really did have a prime spot. Situated at the top of the long, thin patch of grass known as ‘The Green’ which ran between the two main roads of the town. You could see pretty much everything from here, not that there was much to see.

Stumpwell was a modest town. Despite its dual high streets, and though it served the surrounding villages well enough with its small selection of shops, it wasn’t about to give the larger nearby town of Cowton a run for its money anytime soon.

It did though, have the Whole Latte Love cafe. Famous for at least twenty miles in all directions for its muffins, baked by resident genius, Sandra Carter. A big bustling woman who cared for everyone like a mother hen with an iron fist. The muffins were so good, it felt like they should be illegal.

Betty returned with mine, stumbling as she reached the table so that the muffin rolled off onto the table in front of me.

“Are you ok? It’s just that you seem more… well, more you than normal,” I said as I took the plate from her and placed the cake back on it. She took the tea towel that hung from the belt loop in her trousers and began to brush off the muffin crumbs which had scattered across the table.

“Oh its nothing really, just tired…” She looked up as the door opened and a small, wiry middle aged woman entered. “Oh crap.” She looked at me and raised one eyebrow and said, “Mrs Tranter,” in a voice that implied that all the evil in the world could have poured through the door on this sunny morning and it wouldn’t have struck more fear into her than Mrs Tranter. She bustled off towards the counter as I watched the small woman take her place at a table in the far corner. So, this was the infamous Edith Tranter? Betty complained about her on pretty much a daily basis, but I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of watching her in action. When Sandra asked me occasionally to help out at the café I was mostly with her in the kitchen. I enjoyed baking, and in particular watching Sandra work. It was like peeking over the shoulder of Van Gogh, but with more butter.

I watched Betty move over to take her order, almost knocking the man in the wax jacket over who had moved to the counter to order another coffee. Generally customers had to go to the counter to order, seemingly Mrs Tranter got special treatment.

I watched Betty note down Tranter’s order, apparently something she insisted upon despite ordering the same thing every day. I put Edith Tranter to the back of my mind as I focused my attention on the muffin in front of me. After all, I didn’t want it to get cold. I lifted it to my mouth and bit down, enjoying the warm chocolate orange goo which oozed from inside. Being a vampire meant I had one obvious craving (if you can’t guess, it’s red, sticky and rhymes with dud), but I had others. One was a nice cold glass of crisp New Zealand white wine, the other, anything sweet. Betty liked to joke that I had the same sweet tooth lots of other people had, the difference was, my teeth were bigger. This was technically true, although I reminded her that my ‘fangs’ as she liked to call them, only slide out of my gum to reveal their true length when I am in ‘full vamp’ mode. Which generally only happens if I see or smell blood, or if someone threatens me or someone I care about.

In fact, I realised that my ‘vampness’ as I like to call it had been on high alert for the last few minutes. The hairs on the back of my neck were prickling and my incisors had shifted just a fraction from their home in my gums. I looked around, but couldn’t see anything that would be causing it, maybe I was tired too.

My muffin was gone in a matter of moments. I sat back satisfied and watched Betty deliver a coffee and a blueberry breakfast muffin to Mrs Tranter, miraculously without spilling or dropping anything. At the same time, another woman joined her at her table. Short and plump, with her brown hair in a bob, the woman sat down gingerly opposite the fearsome Edith and spoke in a quiet voice to Betty, who scribbled away in her notebook.

Enough of this, I had to get home. Mum and dad had been in a state recently about the new incoming town DCI, and mum had told me to get out of the house this morning as dad had something he wanted to work on. Knowing dad, that was something to worry about.

I looked back through the window at East Street, which ran to the left of the green outside and thought about popping into the Reed’s sweet shop on the way home to grab a few things, when something caught my eye. A bright red sign which stuck out from the buildings, waving slightly in the wind. Its white text glinting in the morning sun. I recognised it with a flutter of excitement in my chest. An idea formed in my mind. I needed to do some investigating.

I stood up and fished my purse from my battered old Italian leather handbag as I walked over to the counter and waited until the man in the wax coat had paid for his takeaway coffee.

“I don’t know who that guy is, but I hope he’s going to be a regular.” Betty sighed, watching the man’s rear leave through the café door. “So do you want to meet when I finish?” she said taking my money.

“Yeah, text me when you’re done and I’ll come down. How was Mrs Tranter this morning?”

“Oh god, awful as always. I think that woman that’s sat with her works for her. Imagine that?!” Her eyes expanded to saucer size and I shook my head at her and laughed. I was about to tell her about the red sign I had seen, when a loud metallic clang rang out around the café, followed by a piercing scream.

I turned to see the plump figure we had just been talking about jump up, sending her chair flying backwards across the floor. She screamed again as her finger rose to point at Mrs Tranter who was slumped back in her seat, head back, with her lifeless eyes staring up into nothing.

2

What a D.I.C.

“What on earth is going on out here?!” Sandra said, bursting through the swing doors which led into the café from the kitchen.

“Sandra, go and get the port you keep in the back,” I said standing. “Betty, call the police.”

I moved quickly to the woman who had stopped screaming and was crouched at the side of the now deceased Mrs Tranter and put my arm around her, guiding her to a spare chair nearby before I moved towards the body. I’d known that Mrs Tranter was dead from the second I had looked at her. My vampness had kicked in fully and I’d honed in on her heartbeat without thinking about it (it’s a vampire thing).

It hadn’t been there.

There seemed to be nothing around the body, no obvious wounds or marks. Just a neat, bony old woman sat in front of a barely drunk cup of coffee and a muffin with one bite taken out of it.

I realised the rest of the café had fallen into silence. All that could be heard was the heavy breathing of the woman who had been sat with Mrs Tranter, and Betty, who sounded like she was in a panic on the phone.

“But you’re not the American ones right? You are going to send someone to England?”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I ignored it as the sobbing dumpy woman in front of me needed me right now.

I dragged a chair up and sat opposite her, looking around the room. Apart from the Barter twins, two little old ladies who were sat at their normal table in the corner of the room and hadn’t moved, there was only me, Betty, the dumpy woman, and the body of Mrs Tranter.

Sandra emerged through the doors to the kitchen with the bottle of port.

“Sandra,” I called over, “bring a load of glasses, I think we could all do with a drink.”

She nodded and bent to grab a tray of glasses from below the counter. I turned my attention back to the woman in front of me, who at least now appeared to be composed.

“Are you ok?” I asked her, realising that this could well be the stupidest question of the year. She nodded meekly.

“It was just a bit of a shock,” she mumbled, dabbing at her eyes and nose with the serviette I had handed her. I held her hand as Sandra returned with the port and started pouring. Betty soon followed and slumped in the chair next to me, grabbing a glass and necking it.

“I was so flustered, I phoned 911! They said it was ok as it gets sent through to 999, but I was worried I’d called the American police! It’s all those bloody police shows I watch on TV,” she muttered.

I had to stifle a laugh, it really wouldn’t have been appropriate.

“What happened love?” Sandra said to the woman in the plain green dress who was now sipping cautiously at her port.

“I don’t know. She was telling me what she wanted me to do today, and then she just started sort of having a fit or something and then fell back… like that.” She nodded her head to where the body sat, alone on its table, as though waiting for service that would never come.

“A heart attack maybe?” Sandra said, looking between me and Betty.

“Maybe.”

I nodded, though something didn’t feel right about all of this. My vampness was screaming that something decidedly fishy had happened in Whole Latte Love this morning.

&The police arrived& around ten minutes later. Not a bad response time and Betty was at least reassured that they had not had to come from America.

A young female officer, clearly a rookie, lived up to the term ‘green’ by turning that very colour upon seeing the body. She was followed in by a tall, rangy man in a cheap suit which still managed to look pretty good on him. His blonde hair was swept neatly to one side, his mouth pursed in thought as his piercing blue eyes scanned the room. He had a sort of presence about him which gave the impression he was in control.

“I am sorry that you have all had an unpleasant morning,” he said to the occupants of the café after entering and looking around the body for a few seconds. “I will just need to ask each of you a few questions and then you can be on your way.”

I noticed that his eyes lingered on Betty, but that was hardly surprising. I’ve turned a few heads in my time, but Betty could make them spin off at the neck. It was the only slightly sour point of being her best friend. Being a pale, acceptably brunette with a body that, although slim was mostly straight lines, was not easy with Betty as a friend.

He called Betty first and they vanished through the doors into the kitchen, where he had decided to take our statements. I sat and drank port with Sandra and the Barter twins. The two old ladies from the corner table had swarmed across the second they had seen the port bottle. The woman who had been sat with Mrs Tranter was also sat with us and had introduced herself as Joan Sithers. She had explained that she was the victim’s personal assistant in between swigs of port and we had nodded and sat in silence until I was called to go through next. I passed Betty on my way to the doors.

“You ok?” I asked. She nodded, but without looking at me, and quickly headed for the alcohol.

Through the double doors I found that the young constable had regained some composure and was sat with a notebook and pencil, a picture of efficiency as she sat bolt upright and looked at me sternly.

The man had shed his jacket and had rolled his shirt sleeves up. It could have been because of the heat in the kitchen from the ovens which had been on all morning, but I suspected it was because he’d watched too many cop movies. Still, I wasn’t complaining, it was quite a tight shirt and I’ll admit I enjoyed seeing his long forearms resting in front of me.

“Miss…” He looked down at a list in front of him, pretending to scan it even though it only had six names on it, “Twyst is it?”

“Yes, well done,” I said as I took a seat opposite him. He seemed to decide to ignore my comment and didn’t look up. Instead, he continued to flick through his notes, leaving me to sit and wait. A classic power play, he’d definitely watched too many movies.

“I’m Detective Marsh, can you take me through what happened this morning Miss Twyst?”

I ran through everything as best as I could. The truth was, I hadn’t seen anything that would help him. He seemed to be of the same opinion, and let me go soon afterwards. I stood up to move towards the door and hesitated.

“You’re treating this as suspicious right?”

“And why would you ask that Miss Twyst? Is there something you’d like to tell us?”

“Well for starters, I notice that no one has come to take the body away. That means you’ve called for a team to come and look at the forensics, which you would only do if you thought there was foul play. Secondly, you’re here taking everyone’s statements. If you thought she had just had a heart attack, you might have talked to Joan Sithers who was sat with her, but not any of us.”

He put his pen down and narrowed his eyes at me. It seems I finally had his attention.

“I’ve been warned about you Miss Twyst.”

Warned about me? Who on earth would be warning him about me and why? I felt a rush of panic that I was all too familiar. My family’s secrets had been close to being exposed enough times over the years for me to be familiar with the warning signs.

“Oh really?” I said as casually as possible.

“I’ve heard you’re not a fan of the police Miss Twyst, which makes me suspicious.”

“Well that’s the permanent state of a policeman isn’t it? Suspicious, I mean? Anyway, I wouldn’t trust every bit of gossip you hear around here.” I pushed through the swing doors and back into the café before he could say anything else. I walked back to the table where the others were gathered and noticed Betty was missing.

“Where’s Betty gone Sandra?” I asked, noticing that Sandra, Joan Sithers and the Barter twins were still tucking into the port, and all had glowing cheeks to prove it.

“She seemed a bit upset, the poor dear, so she’s gone home for a lie down.”

“Oh, right. Well I’m going to get off as well. I’ll pop back in later.”

She raised her newly filled glass to me as I left, stepping out into the morning sunshine. I took a lungful of the still cool morning air and squinted at the red sign in the distance. It would have to wait. I had said I would be back for dad’s surprise by ten, and I was already running late.

3

Parents…

Our house sat on top of a small hill which stood towards the back of the town. On a clear day you could see across the few fields that separated the house from the main spread of houses and to the playing fields beyond which edged the dual highstreets.

Dad being a traditionalist in some ways, has always said he would never live in a house that wasn’t set apart from the main town and on top of some sort of hill. They had apparently searched for some time looking for the perfect place to raise the unborn me until they’d found Harton Manor, which stood in just such a location above Stumpwell. My dad still boasted that the bats which circled the place even in daylight, had moved in just four days after our arrival. He considered this a testament to our good breeding, though he never explained why.

I have to admit, they chose well. Stumpwell was a charming town nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside and Harton Manor was a ramshackle mess of turreted stone. I loved it. I’d lived here twenty nine years now, and all of them had been happy.

As I stepped off the footpath which ran along the side of the property and across the damp grass until I reached the main driveway, I looked up at the building which was now bathed in sunshine. It really was beautiful. Its yellow Cotswold stone had been so pitted over the years by the weather that it looked as though it was slowly dissolving. It was pretty much a normal, though large, house but at some point someone had decided to ‘castle’ it up a bit by adding crenulations to the edges of the flat roof and building out turrets which served no real purpose from either side of the main house.

I ran up the worn steps and opened the creaking door to the hallway (dad had added the creaks a few years ago saying that no front door should open silently.)

“Mum? Dad?” My voice echoed around the high ceilinged entrance hall, but no reply came. I moved past the wide staircase which ran along one side of the hall, guessing they would be in the basement where my dad indulged in his favourite hobby, which was basically being the old-world vampire he was.

I opened the door at the back of the staircase and ventured down. I heard my mother singing before I’d taken more than four steps. She had the kind of voice that could curdle milk at forty paces. She was to music, what fish were to the Tour de France. Worse than that, for some reason she loved to sing, which meant that the house was often filled with the ringing sound of her voice murdering some old tune or other.

I had often wondered whether she had actually had a decent voice when she was alive. Maybe death had robbed her of a beautiful soprano and she just didn’t know it? I’d have to check with my cousin Amanda who was also a zombie and see if she could still sing. I couldn’t ask Mum, it would hurt her feelings.

“Hello love,” Mum said waving a plate full of biscuits in the shape of bats at me as I reached the bottom of the stairs, I took one obviously.

“Bats, Mum? Really?”

“Oh you know your father, he says he’ll only eat real food if it has some sort of vampireyness about it.”

“It’s vampness, Mum.”

“Oh, is it? Oh, I’m sorry dear, I’ve never understood all the lingo.” She bustled off to a bench to my right where she began making tea.

“Fancy a cuppa, dear?”

“Yes, that would be great,” I mumbled, my mouth full of the bat biscuit I had taken. “Is dad ready to show me this… whatever it is then?”

“Oh yes. He said to make you a cup of tea and then send you on through. You know how he likes to add a little bit of drama to his family announcements.”

I stuffed the rest of the biscuit into my mouth and stared at the door which led into what my dad insisted on calling his crypt but was really just a room full of old junk and a workbench. I knew all too well how my dad liked to add a dash of the theatrical to our lives. I remembered with a shudder the time he had announced a family holiday to Romania by buying us all custom made suitcases in the shape of coffins and unveiling them by having us go and dig them up from the garden where he had buried them.

The problem was, he had this idea that as a vampire he had some sort of duty to live up to the stereotype. The trouble was, when you’re a small, smiling grey haired man with a good natured twinkle in your eye and you liked colourful woollen jumpers, it was hard to pull off.

“Here you are dear,” my mum said handing me my tea. “Just remember, he’s always got our best interests at heart.” She patted my hand before bustling back to the counter and beginning to tidy away plates which were obviously from the breakfast they had shared down here. This was definitely bad news, if they’d had breakfast down here, dad was working on something big.

“Off you go then dear, don’t keep him waiting.”

I took a deep breath and opened the door to Dad’s crypt. As soon as I did so, white curls of smoke poured out, but only at ankle height. The entire floor was covered in a swirl of smoke that was constantly puffing out from a machine in the corner. It had been draped in a black cloth to make it look more fitting. Three coffins sat on raised wooden benches dotted around the space, which with the smoke would have looked quite impressive it hadn’t been for the gym equipment which had been pushed against the back wall to make way for them.

“Felicity!” my dad said, appearing from behind a huge black candle holder which towered over his small frame. “Well? What do you think?”

“It’s very, erm, nice?” I ventured. I saw that I had chosen the wrong word almost immediately. His face, full of hopeful anticipation in its expression, twitched slightly.

“Oh. You didn’t feel like saying ‘Oh no, I’ve entered the lair of a lord of the un-dead’ type of thing?”

“Oh don’t get me wrong!” I said hurriedly. “It’s definitely got that spooky vibe, right on the nose I’d say. I just meant it’s nice to me, but then it would be wouldn’t it? Because I’m a vampire.”

He frowned even deeper for a moment, before a large smile crept across his lips.

“Yes, you have a point there,” he said nodding, “have you noticed there are three coffins? One for each of us? I know it’s not really your mum’s thing, but I thought we could maybe try them out at some point?”

Oh god, did he really expect me to lay in a coffin next to him and mum? If he had gone this far, he must be about to deliver news he knows I will find bad. My stomach dropped. They’d made their decision about moving.

“Have you told her yet love?” Mum’s voice rang out around the old stone walls of the basement as she came in with tea for both her and my dad.

“Er, not yet,” my dad said, his pale face turning slightly flush.

“It’s ok,” I said, not wanting him to suffer any more, he was never good at disappointing people.

“You’ve decided to move haven’t you?” I said, trying to keep the dread from my voice. “I mean, you’re not ageing visibly any more, and with the new policeman…”

My mum looked across at my dad, but he looked down and took a sip of tea without replying.

“It’s not just him dear,” my mum said, staring at my dad with a look of concern. “You know we haven’t been out for a while now, we can’t really. People would start to ask questions.”

“You don’t look that young,” I said without thinking.

“Well, thank you very much!” my mother huffed as she pulled herself up straight. “I’m only forty years dead I’ll have you know.”

Being a zombie, my mum hadn’t been born into the un-dead world like my father and I. She preferred to measure her age from the day she had died.

“I know Mum, sorry. I just meant, are you sure people will even notice?”

My dad now looked up, his voice soft and sad.

“Felicity, we moved here just before you were born, twenty eight years ago and to the people of the town, we don’t look any older than we did about ten years ago. Of course they will notice, if not now, soon enough.”

I grasped my mug tightly and sighed.

“I’m staying you know,” I said it without even realising that I had already made the decision, but I had, and I meant it. My life was here, well, what there was of it, and my friends were here.

“Well then it’s a good job that we are too,” my dad said grinning.

“Sorry, what?”

“We’ve decided not to move dear,” my mother chipped in as she arranged some more biscuits onto a plate, “We’re going to stay here and entertain ourselves around the house, you know I always have plenty to do here.”

This was true. My mum, like many zombies, was easily obsessed by things. Her main vice being cleaning. Despite the house creaking, crumbling and being decidedly squidgy through damp, she ensured that every surface was scrubbed within an inch of its life. Last Wednesday I had seen her clean the hoover for forty-five minutes with a toothbrush.

“But what about money? My wage at the café won’t cover you forever.”

“It doesn’t need to dear!” my mother said laughing to herself as she dusted the coffin to my left. “That’s why we thought we might take in one or two guests. They’ll help us with a bit of rent and it will be nice to have some new faces around the place.”

“Guests? But, what about…” I waved my hand in the direction of the coffins and the smoke machine which was still puffing away sullenly in the corner.

“Don’t worry Felicity, they are all our kind,” my dad said solemnly. He always referred to the undead as something to be revered, whereas I just saw them as people like anyone else, just with slightly odd dietary requirements. He always managed to make being a member of the un-dead sound like a prestigious club you belonged to, I’d always seen it as more of an annoyance. “You know how people of our kind like to keep in touch, through the council newsletters?”

The council was the organisation of the undead which apparently helped keep the community in some vague sort of order and made sure that no one suddenly ran off and sucked the blood form half of Dorset or anything. They ran a series of newsletters across the country which usually carried local news amongst the undead.

“Well we heard of a few people looking for rooms in a suitable house and so we decided to take them in. Three of them at first, but you never know, it could be more if all goes well. We’ve got Karl Bunter to thank really, he really does seem to know everybody.”

Karl Bunter was a butcher in nearby Cowton, and also a zombie. He knew everyone because he supplied pretty much all of the undead who required such things as a monthly supply of calf brains, bottles of blood and offal (for the werewolves), for miles around.

I slurped my tea and nodded, unsure of what to say. I had wanted to find a place of my own for a while now, but the whole ‘what the hell am I going to do with my life?’ question had stopped me doing anything. I needed to investigate that red sign, if it was what I thought it was…

My phone vibrated in my pocket and I pulled it out to see Betty’s face on the screen before I answered.

“Hey, you ok?” I asked, wondering if she had recovered from this morning’s excitement.

“No! You’ve got to come Flick! I’m at the police station, they think I might have killed Mrs Tranter!”

“What?! Don’t worry, I’m on my way.” I slapped my tea down on the nearest coffin, splashing it across the dark mahogany.

“I’ve got to go, Betty needs me,” I called behind me as I headed for the stairs at a run. Over my shoulder I heard my dad’s voice in panic.

“Get a cloth Marjory! It’s going to stain the wood!”

4

Police and Poison

The police station at the end of Culper Street was not much to write home about; a squat building with tatty white paint. It was at least, mercifully, half obscured from the rest of the residential street by a row of sycamores. Their leaves rustled in the light breeze of what was now a beautiful spring day.

As I made my way through the automatic doors into the reception, I was greeted by the same young constable who had been the note taker back at the café when I’d given my statement. She was bent over, reading something intently.

“Hello again, Constable…”

“Pearson,” she said looking up. “You were at the café this morning,” she said blankly.

“Ah, and that’s why you are in the right profession Constable Pearson! Good observational skills.”

Well, it can never hurt to give a bit of flattery right?

The constable straightened herself up at my praise and stifled a smile.

“Well, my dad always said I had a nose for things,” she admitted modestly.

“I’m here to see Betty Haddock.”

“Oh, friend of the poisoner are you?”

“I think you’re supposed to wait until she’s been proven guilty until you say things like that,” I said, slightly in shock.

She snorted and stepped out from behind the counter, heading towards the single door which led into the rear of the building.

“Wait here.”

She vanished and I was left alone. I wandered over to the counter and looked over it to the desk behind. The sheet Constable Pearson had been looking at was a print out of the Wikipedia page on cyanide. Interesting.

Muffled voices which were getting louder as they approached from the other side of the door made me step back just before Constable Pearson returned with Detective Marsh in tow.

“Miss Twyst? You can see Miss Haddock, but you only have ten minutes. Pearson will show you through.” He brushed past me and left through the front door as Constable Pearson waved me through. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt a little annoyed at this brusque treatment.

After a short walk down a dingy corridor, I was shown into a room where Betty leapt up from her chair and threw her arms around me, while a small neat woman gathered some papers and left the room.

“Don’t worry Miss Haddock, we’ll have you out of here in no time,” she said before leaving us alone. Her appointed lawyer I presumed.

“Oh Flick, I’m such an idiot!”

I knew she was upset, but this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.

“Don’t be silly, you haven’t done anything wrong!”

She pulled away from me, her eyes full of tears.

“I can’t believe I gave him a free muffin!”

Now I was completely lost.

“Look, we’ve only got ten minutes. Sit down and tell me what you’re talking about and why the hell you’re in here.”

Betty sighed and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue from a box which looked like it might need refilling soon.

“He came into the café a few days ago, but I didn’t want to tell you because I knew how you felt about it all.”

She stopped as I held my hand up palm out. Occasionally Betty got into a flow that could only be stopped by this action. Harsh, but true. And I’d had enough of not knowing what was going on.

“Betty, who the bloody hell are you talking about?!”

“DCI Marsh obviously.”

“Wait, did you say you met him days ago?!”

“Yes, I know, I know. I’m sorry.”

I slumped back in my seat, hurt that she had not told me she had met this guy, but also that she would not tell about the new policeman when she knew how important it would be for my family. Something occurred to me and I jumped up, not hurt any more, but angry.

“Did you tell him that I didn’t like the police?!”

Betty put her hands to her mouth.

“Oh god, yeah I did! But not like that Flick, I just said that I wanted to introduce him to you, but that I would have to talk to you first because you were a bit, well… prickly around authority. Which is true!” she added nodding her big eyes at me for forgiveness. I sighed and held her hand, anything else would have been like kicking a puppy.

“To be honest, I was thinking that you and him would make a nice couple.”

“Are you insane?! He’s a policeman Betty! And I’m a…” I suddenly remembered where I was, and Betty’s quivering bottom lip told me this could wait for another time.

“Look, don’t worry. I’m sure they’re just going through everything and being thorough. Marsh is just doing his job properly. Has he said anything about why they’re questioning you in particular?”

“They say Mrs Tranter was poisoned! But I made her coffee from scratch in the café!”

Cyanide. That’s why Constable Pearson had been looking it up. They can’t have had lab results back yet can they? From what I’d seen on TV, those things took time. The only thing I knew about cyanide was that it was supposed to smell of almonds. Thank you Poirot. Wait, that was it!

“Betty, did Marsh ask you if you had added any almond essence to Mrs Tranter’s coffee?”

Her mouth widened into a perfect ‘O’.

“Yes! He did! How did you know that?!”

“Just a guess, and I’m also guessing you said no?”

“Course not, she’s not the type to have anything fancy in her coffee like that… wasn’t the type I mean.”

“Right, we need to think who else had access to that coffee this morning.”

Betty frowned at me.

“Well no one, I made it and took it to her.”

There was a knock on the door behind us at the same time as it opened.

“Time’s up,” Constable Pearson said, jerking her thumb upwards to indicate that I needed to leave.

“Don’t worry Betty, we’ll sort this out.” I gave her hand a squeeze and left her in the small windowless room looking like a child being left on her first day of school.

&Back on the& sunny streets of Stumpwell, I looked up a local phone directory on my mobile. It wasn’t too difficult to find an address under Tranter, Stumpwell wasn’t that big and it wasn’t a common name, with only one entry. I adjusted my route, and in another twenty minutes I was walking down a wide street with trees planted on either side. The houses were semi-detached thirties affairs with big bay windows and well-kept gardens. Overall it was rather nice and I had a hard time picturing Mrs Tranter living here. From the description Betty had given me, the seventh level of hell would be a more apt address for the recently deceased.

Scaffolding was wrapped around one of the houses on my left, and I spotted a figure at the top working at the guttering. I crossed the street over to him and called up.

“Excuse me, but do you know where a Mrs Tranter lives?” I had decided on present tense as, although gossip travelled insanely fast in Stumpwell, I wasn’t sure it had reached this workman yet. The man leaned over the side railing and looked down at me.

“Well she used to live ‘ere love.”

“Oh, so you’ve heard?” I said, surprised.

“Yeah, I’ve ‘eard.” The builder gave a small laugh and turned back to his guttering.

Before I could call him back to question him further, the front door opened and a short bald man with more frown lines across his forehead than I’d ever seen. He moved down the paved path which cut through the neat and tidy lawn and almost walked into me as he came through the open gate.

“Oh, I’m sorry, do excuse me,” he stammered before moving out onto the street and calling up to the builder. “I’m just off to the bank now Mr Jones.”

“Good,” the builder replied gruffly, and the little man waddled off.

This was obviously Mr Tranter, and from his nervous and cowed manner, I’d say his wife had done a good job on him over the years. I decided not to ask him anything right now. After all, the man had just lost his wife. Besides, I thought the builder might be able to give more insight into the couple from an impartial perspective. Though something told me that I might find a lot of people with no love lost for Mrs Tranter.

I was about to call up to the roof again when I noticed the builder was descending anyway. I moved over to meet him at the bottom ladder.

“Allo again,” he said as he turned and saw me.

“So you’re weren’t a fan of Mrs Tranter either?”

I had decided I needed to get him onside if I was going to get anything out of him. He had a narrow face and a moustache so thin I could have done a better job with my eye-liner. One of his eyes was swollen and black, an on the job injury? He looked me up and down as he moved past before opening the back doors of his van and pulling out a lunch box.

“You could say that,” he said sitting on the edge of the van and taking a bite out of a cheese sandwich.

“I work in the café where she went every day, she was a bloody nightmare!”

He turned to me with a look of surprise.

“Were you there when she died then?”

Gossip had obviously reached far enough to give the location away.

“Yes, it was horrible, but… well, so was she!” I felt a little wrong at saying this bearing in mind I didn’t know her, but Betty’s word was good enough for me. I needed him onside and I was well into my role now.

“You can say that again. Four days I worked here in the pouring bloody rain, then she tells me it’s not good enough and she’ll only pay me if I fix it. Bloody nightmare.” His voice drifted off slightly and he looked up and down the street as though looking for something.

“I can imagine.” My words seemed to snap him back to the moment, he looked like he’d been caught off guard.

“Yeah, well, I better get back to work,” he said as he stood up, closed the van doors and made his way back to the scaffolding.

&Opening& the Whole Latte Love Café door, I was surprised to see Mr Tranter sat at a table, with Sandra pouring him a large port.

“Oh really, I couldn’t,” he protested.

“Nonsense, shock like you’ve had today, you’ve got to,” Sandra said, sliding it under his nose. She looked up at me as I approached. “Hello Felicity love, this is poor Mr Tranter.”

“Hi,” I managed, hoping he didn’t recognise me as the woman who had been stood outside of his house just twenty minutes ago.

“Oh, hello erm, yes.” He nodded until I thought his head might fall off, before taking a gentle sip of port. His eyes were red and puffy, he’d clearly been crying.

“Sandra, can I have a quick word?” I jerked my head towards the counter.”

“You just sit there and rest up a bit Mr Tranter,” she said, sliding one of her famous muffins across the table at him before joining me over by the counter.

“What’s he doing here?”

“He said he wanted to see where it happened, understandable really. I think he’s just trying to make sense of it all.” Sandra looked over my shoulder at the widower and sighed. “Funny little man isn’t he?”

I looked back at him to see him break off a tiny amount of muffin, hold it to his mouth and nibble it.

“Yeah, he is a bit. Look Sandra, Betty’s in the police station. They’re questioning her more about this morning.”

“Oh! But why on earth are they questioning anyone?”

I looked over my shoulder, keeping my voice low.

“They think Mrs Tranter was murdered, and I think they think it was something in her coffee.”

“Well stone me! Oh, the poor girl!”

“Shhh!” I said waving my hands and ushering her through the swing doors into the kitchen as everyone in the café turned to look at us. “I’m just guessing at the moment, but Betty was the one who made the coffee, so I don’t see who else could have put something in it.”

Sandra’s jaw dropped.

“You don’t think our Betty?…”

“No! Of course not!” I said, though a part of my brain was sat with its arms folded saying ‘She didn’t tell you about the sergeant though did she? I ignored it. “We need to think who else could have done this though. No one else in the café got sick, so it must have been something added to her coffee and not the beans or anything.”

“Blimey,” said Sandra, automatically reaching for another bottle of port and pouring us both a glass. She must have a stock of the stuff that could fill a warehouse.

As far as I could tell, only two people other than Betty could have added something to Mrs Tranter’s coffee. I drank the sweet port offered to me and pushed open the door to go and talk to Mr Tranter, but he was gone.

5

Opportunity

I left the café armed with a latte and a toasted cheese and mushroom panini. I made my way down East Street until I reached the Reed’s sweet shop and the red sign I had seen from the window of the café that morning. I had recognised it immediately as that of Redford’s, the only estate agent in town. FOR SALE was written across the sign in bold white writing and my heart did a small somersault. I opened the door to the shop, making the little bell tinkle above me. A sound I was very familiar with by now.

“Hello, Felicity my dear! How are you today?”

“Not bad thank you Mrs Reed,” I said with my mouth still half full of panini which I quickly swallowed. “The sign outside… are you selling up?”

“Yes! I’ve finally persuaded him to retire. We’ve got our eye on a lovely bungalow down by the coast, so we can finally put our feet up.”

“Or just become old and useless,” Mr Reed’s voice chimed in as he emerged from the back room. “Afternoon, Felicity.”

“Hi, Mr Reed. Well I’ll be sorry to see you go obviously, but you both deserve a nice retirement.”

“Well thanks dear, now what can I get you?”

I paused for a minute, unsure of how to say it. It felt ridiculous to even think it.

“Well actually, I was thinking of maybe buying the shop myself.”

They both froze for a moment, before Mr Reed stepped out from behind the company and grabbed me, a hand on either arm.

“That’s bloody marvellous, Felicity!”

“Is it?” I replied, stunned. I had expected them to laugh in my face.

“Of course it is! We were thinking the old place would be turned into something awful like a travel agents or newsagents or something,” Mr Reed replied with a broad smile.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“But how do you know I won’t do the same?”

“Oh, Felicity dear,” Mrs Reed answered shaking her head, “you’re our best customer. We thought you’d be protesting in the street when we told you we would be selling up, turns out you want to keep it going!”

I laughed again. They were right on two counts, I would be distraught if the best sweet shop I had ever visited shut down, and I did want to keep it going myself. I had been searching for something to call my own for what felt like forever. Something to give me a purpose other than hanging out at my parents’ house pretending that I wasn’t the one thing that defined me; being a vampire. Bearing in mind I already ate my own body weight in sweets each week, why not run a sweet shop?

“Well I don’t know how I’ll do it yet, but I’ll give it my best shot.”

“Oh I know you will, and if it’s to you, it’ll be at a good price,” Mr Reed said before rustling through some papers from under the counter. He produced a small sales booklet made up by the estate agents and handed it to me as his wife shoved a bulging white paper bag under my nose.

“Here, on the house. All your favourites,” she said with a wink.

&It was& late afternoon as I arrived home. The sun dipping below the trees which lined the driveway, casting dancing shadows around my feet as I walked. My phone buzzed in my pocket and I pulled it out to see Betty’s picture again.

“Hey Betty, you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m home now, but apparently Sandra’s been called in.”

Makes sense, I thought. She was the owner of the café after all, though she was in the kitchen when it had all happened, so they were definitely wasting their time.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine. Have they said any more about what happened?”

“All James has said is that it was poison, and… Oh god, I’m so annoyed with myself!”

After wondering for a moment who the hell James was, I realised it was Detective Marsh.

“Betty, don’t worry. You haven’t done anything wrong.” I felt like I really shouldn’t have to be repeating this as much as I was.

“I know it’s just… the other night when I was with James, he was asking me about work and I told him about Mrs Tranter and said…”

I reached my room and kicked off my shoes before collapsing on my bed.

“Said what?” I asked, though I had already guessed the answer.

“I said that she drove me so mad, it was all I could do not to put laxatives in her coffee.”

A moment passed where I tried not to laugh, and Betty sighed softly down the phone helplessly.

“Oh come on Betty, everyone says stuff like that, it doesn’t mean you poisoned her! Just that you knew what a horrible old cow she was!”

“But James says he has a duty to report it and that I had put myself into an awkward position.”

I was starting to like this Marsh character less and less, but for the moment, I decided to be diplomatic.

“Look, I know he has a job to do, but he can’t really think it’s you. They’ll find who’s behind this soon enough and it’ll all be water under the bridge.”

“Felicity! Felicity dear, are you in?” My mother’s voice rattled around the hall outside my room.

“Yes Mum, I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Ok dear, we have some guests I’d like you to meet.”

Guests? My mum and dad never had guests. Ever.

“Look, Betty, I’m going to have to go. Have a bath and a glass of wine and get some rest. I’ll come down and see you in the morning.”

She said goodbye in a quiet voice and I hung up before turning to my dressing table mirror to make sure my hair was vaguely respectable. It was, but I looked paler than ever under its jet black sweep. I’d got too much sun today and hadn’t had my blood yet. Not a good combo for a vampire. I’m not sure exactly what would happen if I gave up blood and moved to the desert, but I didn’t want to find out.

I left my room and made my way downstairs until I heard voices coming from the open door of the drawing room on my left. Although I didn’t know what to expect guests of my parents to look like (family being the only people who ever really visited) I definitely wasn’t expecting this.

Three people stood with my parents, all sharing various alcoholic looking beverages in our best glasses. One of them was a woman so small and thin, and wrapped in so many layers that for a moment I thought someone had just brought the wheelchair in to hold everybody’s coats. Then a bone white arm had moved from the pile and applied a large amount of brandy to the thin lips of its owner. The person stood next to her was a tall, angular man with a nose like a beak. It was so large, I couldn’t tell if the round spectacles that perched on top were small, or just dwarfed by his nasal proportions. He was dressed in a smart black suit with a pink carnation giving a dash of colour at his lapel. He had an air of superiority about him that gave me the impression he was important, or at least thought he was. The third person was the one who had really grabbed my attention. Mousy brown hair sat in a tussled heap on top of a face that, only after my dad had called my name twice, had I realised I was staring at.

“Felicity!”

“Oh, yes, sorry.”

I tore my eyes from the dark, handsome features of the man that I had just recognised, and moved over to join my parents.

“Felicity, I want you to meet our new lodgers,” my dad said, gesturing to the small group of people next to him.

In shock, I looked from the old woman in the wheelchair, to the man with the large nose, and finally to the man I had seen in the café that morning, and one of my prime suspects in the murder of Mrs Tranter.

6

House Mates

“Sorry, did you say ‘lodgers’?”

My dad’s smile froze at the tone of my voice.

“Er, excuse me, I just need to have a word with my daughter. Marjory, why don’t you refill everyone’s glasses?” he smiled briefly around the room before leading me towards the French doors which led out into the garden.

“Dad, what the hell is going on? I thought you were just having the odd guest every so often? ‘Lodgers’ sounds a lot more permanent to me!”

He looked over his shoulder back towards the doors, making sure they were far enough away that they wouldn’t be heard before speaking.

“Felicity, we talked about this just yesterday. We needed to do something, your mum and I aren’t getting any younger you know.”

For someone who was present at the beginning of the industrial revolution, this was a bit of an understatement.

“We need to have a regular income for our retirement.”

Retirement? I couldn’t remember the last time my dad had worked! He had been a freelance accountant, but his last client had long since moved on.

“We’ve decided to rent out some of the other rooms in the house. I’m sure you will like our new guests, they are all from delightfully good stock.”

I had tried to explain to my father before that being from good ‘undead’ stock wasn’t exactly something to shout about.

“I just… didn’t realise it would happen so quickly.”

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t exactly protest, I knew they were doing this for me as much as themselves. None of us wanted to lose the house

“So are they all vampires?”

“Not all vampires, but they’re all part of the gang as it were. Mrs Bard is a banshee, but her voice has almost gone bless her. Mr Shaw is a zombie and Mr Pound is a vampire like us. He leaned and whispered conspiratorially, “From the Lancashire Pounds you know, very old family. Good stock.”

I thought of the man inside with the mop of hair and when I’d seen him this morning at the café.

“Right, well I guess I better go and meet them then.”

He ushered me back in to the room and introduced me officially to the small group. I was introduced to Mrs Bard first. She greeted me with a hoarse but shrill voice and a handshake which felt like I was holding a porcelain stick. Mr Shaw was next. He gave a short bow as he introduced himself in a long, slow drawn out voice that made me feel tired just waiting for him to get to the end of the sentence.

Finally, I was introduced to Mr Pound. He looked at me with a slight frown as his mouth turned up at one side.

“Have we met before Miss Twyst?”

Glad of the opening, and a distraction from his intense eyes, I seized my chance.

“Yes, well, sort of. You were at the Whole Latte Love this morning.”

“Ah yes, so I was. And of course, you were there too.” He smiled at me, and for some reason I suddenly felt nervous. My stomach fluttered like a startled bird.

“Did you know Mrs Tranter who was in there?”

Nice Felicity. Subtle. Like using a sledgehammer to open a ketchup bottle, and yet… there was a flicker there before the smooth reply.

“I don’t think I remember the name, no.”

“She was murdered right around the time you were at the café.”

My dad spluttered on his cognac.

“Murdered?!” I suddenly realised that with not getting out much and not being fans of TV, they probably hadn’t seen it on the news yet.

“Yes dad, murdered.”

I didn’t take my eyes from Pound. His eyes had widened in what looked a lot like fear. My dad cleared his throat as he regained composure and took another large gulp of brandy.

“Well that is terrible news,” Pound said in a quiet voice. “I am sorry for her family.”

“You were at the counter when her coffee was being prepared. Betty usually puts the tray there before heading to the end so she can lift the hatch to come through to the customer’s side, before she picks the tray up again. Plenty of time for someone who was stood at the counter to drop something in her coffee.”

“Felicity!” My dad spluttered. “I’m sorry Mr Pound, I don’t know what’s come over her!”

Mr Pound had reacted this time not with fear, but with confusion. His brow knotted as he looked at me.

“I had nothing to do with it. You were there too,” he said, and I suddenly realised what I was saying. I was accusing this guy of murder for pretty much no reason other than he was there.

I felt a slight blush on my cheeks, which bearing in mind how pale I was now, was probably pretty obvious.

“I’m sorry, I…”

“Yes, well that’s quite enough of all this,” my father interjected. “Felicity, I think you should maybe go and have a drink dear, you looking rather pale.” He gave me a stern look and began to lead Mr Pound away towards the others.

“I’m sorry Mr Pound, but you know how we all get when we haven’t had our correct refreshments.”

I turned and left without protesting. If Mr Pound had put anything into Mrs Tranter’s coffee, he was hardly going to tell me, and anyway, I don’t know of a single reason why he would. In any case, dad was right, I wasn’t thinking straight.

I headed for the kitchen and moved past the fridge where we kept normal things like butter and milk, and grabbed the edge of the shelves which ran along the wall next to it. They swung open to reveal a large metal door. I pulled the lever down and stepped into the cool air. Plastic bags full of calf brains sat on the shelves to the right, my mum’s dietary requirements. On the left, bottles of dark red blood stood in rows. As soon as I saw them, I felt my vampness rack up a notch. My incisors slid out from their recesses in my mouth and I felt a rush of adrenaline wash over me. I grabbed a bottle and started glugging without even taking it back to the kitchen to find a glass.

&The next morning& I woke to find the house quiet. I guessed that with the excitement of having guests, my parents had over done it and were sleeping in, so I grabbed some toast while looking through the business directory in the phonebook. After finding what I was looking for, I walked into town.

Although still warm, today was overcast which was a blessing for me after the sun of yesterday. Even so, I had still worn my huge sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat. Something that Betty couldn’t help but comment on as I entered the Whole Latte Love.

“Are you in disguise or something? It wasn’t you being questioned for murder yesterday you know.”

“Very funny, get me two coffees and two muffins to go, I’m going to have a little word with Joan Sithers.”

“Why?” Betty said as she worked the coffee machine, shooting steam out onto her wrist making her squeal in pain. After checking she was ok and making her running her hand under the cold tap, I carried on.

“Well, I think there were only three people who could have put something into Mrs Tranter’s coffee. You,” Betty looked at me in shock, “don’t worry I’ve ruled you out on the basis that you would have missed the cup,” I said smiling at her. She laughed and went back to making my coffee.

“Ok, and so Joan Sither’s is one of the others because she was sat with Tranter. But who’s the third?”

I explained about my future housemate, and that he was the man who had been in the café yesterday.

“Wait!” Her hands rose to her mouth in shock. “You don’t mean that tall dark and handsome guy who was in here when… Oh my god! I can’t believe you’re going to be living with him!”

“Oh god, don’t even think about trying to set me up again like you did with DCI Marsh.”

Betty grinned at me.

“You know, your skin actually looks like a normal person’s right now. You know that’s just because you thought of James right?”

“Betty, can you stop calling him James? He almost arrested you for murder yesterday!”

“Flick! You have to invite me round for dinner!”

“I’ll see you later,” I said, shaking my head at her ability to bounce around in a conversation, and taking my coffee and blueberry muffin as she offered it.

“Oh, come on Flick!”

I turned to leave, when I heard her voice change from a mocking tone to a more serious one.

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” I turned back to her. “Do you think there’s a spare room going at the house that I could have?”

It hadn’t occurred to me that Betty would be looking for a place, but she still lived in the flat where she’d watched her mum slowly fall victim to the cancer that had killed her and had understandably been an emotional wreck since. It made sense that she’d want to get out.

“Well, we’ve got the room, but Betty,” I looked around to make sure no one was in earshot, “the other people are like me.”

“Oh! That’s great! Then I’m in! It’ll be great fun! Us two living together!”

“I’ll talk to my mum and dad, see you later.”

I smiled and left unsure of how I felt about it all. It would be great living with Betty, but her enthusiasm for the un-dead was worrying…

7

Piles of Paperwork

The offices sat in a tiny cul-de-sac of small businesses just a few streets away from the twin highstreets and the Whole Latte Love. I pressed the button against the handwritten card which read ‘Tranter’s Accounting’ and waited until I heard the voice of Joan Sithers through the intercom, she sounded out of breath.

“Yes?”

“Hi, Joan? It’s Felicity from the café yesterday. I just thought I’d drop by and see if you’re ok and bring you some coffee.”

“Oh, er. Thank you, but I’m really fine.”

“Are you sure? I have one of the Whole Latte Love muffins…”

The door buzzed open and I stepped through and made my way up the stairs, reading the small silver signs which sat by each door until I found the right one.

“Hello Felicity, it’s very nice of you to come and see how I am,” Joan said as I came through the door, greedily eyeing the paper bag that I carried at my side.

“Oh, no problem. It was a shock for us all.”

“Come and sit down, let me just clear a space.”

I watched her grab stacks of papers and folders, piling them on tall mounds of similar folders which were dotted around the office. The place was a mess. It looked as though every drawer of the many filing cabinets which ran along one wall had been emptied. I noticed that the large desk which sat at the far end of the long room facing inwards was neat and tidy, every bit of stationary in its rightful place. That was obviously Mrs Tranter’s desk, the other smaller desk which faced the door was clearly for Joan, and it was buried under the same paperwork as most of the floor was.

“There we are,” Joan said, indicating two chairs which she had cleared of papers and a small section of desk which she gestured at me to put down the coffees and muffins. I did so and we both tucked in, slurping at our coffees to wash it down.

“These really are excellent,” Joan said sighing with pleasure.

“The best,” I said, and meant it. “So have the police questioned you again?”

She looked up sharply at me.

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Oh, just a guess really. They’ve already talked to Betty and Sandra from the Latte, so I guessed they’d talk to you again too.”

She seemed to relax a bit and took another bite of the muffin.

“Yeah, hauled me in for over two hours they did. I don’t know what they expected me to say, there wasn’t much to it, she just died in front of me.”

She certainly seemed less upset about Mrs Tranter’s death than she had yesterday.

“Did they say how she had died?”

“They said she was poisoned,” she said quietly.

Her manner had changed somehow. She sat more upright as she finished her muffin and sipped gently at the coffee. She eyed me with as much suspicion as I was probably eying her.

“Can you think of anyone who would want to do that?”

“I don’t like to talk ill of the dead, but Mrs Tranter was a hard woman, she had a few enemies. Now if you don’t mind Miss Twyst…” Back to last name terms suddenly? “… I’d like to get on here, I’ve got a lot to do.”

“What exactly are you doing?” I asked standing up and looking around at the mess.

“I’m sorting out all of her files to pass on to another accountant now we’re closing shop.”

“Oh, you didn’t fancy keeping it going on in some form yourself?”

“I’m not an accountant, I’m a personal assistant. I wouldn’t have a clue about any of this.” She waved her arm over the piles. Something grabbed my attention at the top of the pile to my right. I needed a closer look.

“Do you mind if I use your loo before I go?”

“Down there on the right,” she said huffily, before turning back to a stack of papers on her desk. I whipped the folder I had spotted from the top of the pile and tucked it under my leather jacket as I made my way to the loo.

The toilet was a small but neat room with a single bowl and basin. I sat on the closed lid and looked at the folder with the scent of lavender tickling my nose from the bowl of potpourri on the back of the cistern. The name on the top of the dull orange card read:

MR POUND

I opened it and quickly scanned through the pages. I had no idea what any of them meant in terms of finances, but it wasn’t hard to make sense of Mrs Tranter’s spiderlike handwritten notes in the margins.

‘Unacceptable’, ‘questionable’, ‘illegal!’, the latter being underlined three times. At the top of the page she had written in large emphatic words, ‘Report to Her Majesty’s Tax Office at once’.

Something was clearly very fishy about Mr Pound’s accounts. I flipped back to the first page and read the company name at the top, ‘The Powton Shooting and Game Company’. Powton was a town a few miles from here, but I’d never heard of the company. Not surprising bearing in mind shooting things interested me as much as a sugar free diet.

I stuffed the folder back into my leather jacket, flushed the toilet, and walked back into the office, hoping to replace the folder on top of the pile without Joan Sither’s seeing, but she snapped her head round to me the second I entered.

“All ok, Miss Twyst? If you didn’t mind leaving me to get on with things?”

“Oh of course, I… Oh sorry!” My hand had deliberately caught the pile that the folder had been sat on with my elbow, sending folders sprawling across the floor. I bent down quickly and whipped out the missing item from my jacket and merged with the others as I picked them up.

“Oh leave them, I’ll have to go through and order them again anyway,” Joan said testily behind me.

“Oh ok, sorry again, and glad you’re feeling better.”

I stepped out of the doorway and made my way out onto the street in a thoughtful mood. If Mrs Tranter was going to report Mr Pound’s business to the tax man, that might be a good enough reason to bump her off. Money always seemed to be a pretty good motivator for murder on TV. Even if that wasn’t the case, he had lied about knowing her that was for sure… Very fishy.

As for Joan Sithers, she had suddenly become very prickly at the mention of poison, was that because she had something to hide? Or because she didn’t like being accused of murder?

I made my way back onto West Street and passed a selection of odd shops that I’d almost never had cause to use, but that seemed to survive despite a lack of customers. Odds and Sods whose grubby window was filled with all sorts of bric-a-brac, the delightfully named Knockers, Screws and Knobs, which I hoped sold ironmongery for doors and hinges, or it really wasn’t so delightfully named, and finally, the Stumpwell branch of the Cowton Bank and Building Society.

I pushed through the front door, which was so stiff it felt like a test in itself, to be greeted by a young girl wearing too much makeup and a tight fitting nylon dress. I could practically hear the static electricity crackle as she walked across the carpet towards me.

“Good morning madam, how can we help you today?”

Her sing song voice grated like nails down a blackboard.

“I want to speak to someone about a business loan.”

“That would be Mr Barnes, do you have an appointment at all?”

“No.”

“Right, I’ll just go and see when he next has a free slot.”

She toddled off as I looked around the completely deserted bank. I imagined Mr Barnes had a few free weeks let alone hours if this morning’s activities were anything to go by. I picked up a leaflet on retirement and thought of my parents. It was good they were going to get a fresh start, I just needed to make sure I made it into a fresh start for me too. I thought of the Reed’s sweet shop and wondered. The more I thought about it, the less I could identify anything I’d ever had that was truly mine. I’d lived in my parent’s house all of my life, in the same town, going to the same café most mornings and hanging around with Betty. I’d been coasting, and it was time to get real.

“He has a slot available at two thirty, can I take your name?”

I looked around the still empty bank, sure that someone was playing a joke on me, but no one jumped out with a hidden camera.

“It’s Felicity Twyst,” I sighed, I couldn’t muster up the energy to argue the point.

“Great, well we’ll see you this afternoon Felicity!” she chirped in a way that for some reason, made me annoyed she had used my first name. I turned to leave and walked straight into the broad chest of Mr Pound.

“Oh, I’m sorry I… Felicity?”

“Hello Mr Pound.” I tried to keep the frustration of the bank visit out of my voice, but I didn’t pull it off.

“Please, call me Damien. I’m glad I ran into you, I was wondering if you would join me for lunch today? I feel we got off on the wrong foot yesterday, and if we’re going to be living together…”

I opened and shut my mouth a couple of times while I thought of a way to tell him to bugger off, before I realised he was either trying to be nice, or was worried about my line of questioning back at the house.

“Ok.”

“Great. I have a couple of errands to run, but can we meet at the Stump and Well, around one?” I nodded and he smiled and walked off towards the bank counter.

8

A Haddock in Hot Water

As I left the bank and wandered back out onto the street, I checked my watch and saw that it was still only half eleven, I decided to go and drop in at the café before my newly acquired lunch date and headed off towards it. It really was quiet this morning in town, maybe the overcast sky had put everyone off after the sunshine yesterday.

The door to Odds and Sods opened as I passed and the builder who I had seen working on Mrs Tranter’s house stepped out, counting out a wad of money in an envelope.

“Oh, morning Mr …?”

He looked up and raised his head at me in acknowledgment before stuffing the envelope into his pocket.

“Jones, and you are?”

His tone was curt. I had been hoping that my womanly charms might be enough to get him to engage in conversation, but they were obviously not up to scratch. If only Betty had been with me. Story of my life.

“Felicity Twyst, nice to meet you.”

I held a hand out for him to shake, but he grunted and turned away from me.

“Into antiques are you?” I asked jogging up next to him.

“What? Oh, just selling some of my granddad’s old stuff.”

“Oh, must have been some good stuff,” I said nodding towards his pocket.

“Yeah, he was in the Special Forces in World War Two and I found a load of his medals and stuff, I…”

Something seemed to stop him in his tracks. He turned quickly to his left and into a door to the side of the butchers which led to the bookmakers above without saying goodbye. It seemed pretty clear where the money from his grandfather’s old medals was going.

I turned back onto the road and almost bumped into two men who strode down the pavement as though they owned it.

“Don’t mind me will you?!” I shouted as I stepped aside to avoid hitting them.

“We won’t love,” the skinny one called over his shoulder making the huge man next to him chuckle with a deep laugh. I swore under my breath and carried on to the Latte.

I entered to find it heaving with small, chattering grey haired people. I dodged past two walking frames and an electric wheelchair before having to back up again to let through a group of four old men, in full suit and ties, who were shuffling along in a line holding drinks in hands so wobbly, scalding seemed like a given. I negotiated them and managed to wave down Betty at the counter as she lifted up the end to let her out into the throng.

“What on earth’s going on?!”

“Lawn bowls group, their coach broke down a mile or so away so they’ve all popped in while the recovery guy tries to fix it,” she said, wiping the back of her hand across her forehead which had a sheen of sweat.

“I think I’ll come back later,” I said turning towards the door.

“Wait a minute Flick!” Betty said, grabbing my shoulder and pulling me closer. She bent down and whispered in my ear conspiratorially.

“James called me. He said I’m going to have to go into the station again as they’ve discovered new evidence. What do you think it means?!” She gave me a worried look, her olive skin knotted above her brow.

“How can they have new evidence? They went over this place yesterday.”

“He said they found something in my car.”

“What?! When did they look in your car?!”

“This morning, first thing! And my mum called and said they’ve been round the house too!”

This was not good. I tried not to let my face show it, but I was worried.

“Ok, try not to worry. When does he want you to go in?”

“He’s coming now, I’m just trying to help Sandra out here until Tracy arrives.”

Tracy was the only other waitress who worked at the Whole Latte Love, and was about as reliable as the English weather.

“And if she doesn’t turn up?” I said, looking around at the sea of grey hair.

“Well…”

I turned back to see Betty giving me a sheepish smile as she hurried past with a tray full of tea and cakes. I sighed and grabbed an apron from the side of the counter when the tinkling of the door opening made me look to see Tracy walk in. Saved by the bell.

Following her closely into the packed café was Chief Inspector Marsh, accompanied by Constable Pearson.

They headed towards Betty and began talking to her in hushed tones. I moved to intercept as Constable Pearson began to lead her towards the door.

“Can I ask why you need to talk to her again?” I said making Marsh turn to look at me. He looked over his shoulder, waiting until Constable Pearson and Betty had vanished through the door before he looked back at me, his expression changed. Instead of the serious, professional expression he had worn when talking to Betty, now though, there was an air of panic about him.

“Felicity, I hope you don’t mind me calling you Felicity?” Even this seemed to worry him. He was an altogether different character to the one who had taken my statement just yesterday. “I didn’t have any choice to bring Betty in again, I mean after we found…” He looked around nervously.

“What did you find?!”

“I can’t tell you, but Betty is in trouble. I’ve got pressure from the top brass in Cowton to start making progress on the case and, well I’ve got to follow the evidence,” he said helplessly, his shoulders sagging.

“If you can’t tell me what you found in her car, at least tell me why you thought it was murder in the first place.”

He stared at me for a moment, obviously deciding whether he could share this information with me or not. His blue eyes were piercing, it felt like he was staring into the back of my head.

“Mrs Tranter had received death threats. Came to us with them just a few weeks ago. No leads, all cut from newspapers and posted by hand.”

“What did the letters say?”

“A load of stuff about how she should treat people better or she’d pay for it. Look, I’ve got to go. I just wanted you to know that I don’t have any choice.” He looked down at the pen he was turning in his hand. “I know you and her are close, and I didn’t want you thinking I was… well I don’t know, just throwing my weight around.”

I actually felt a little sorry for him. He clearly didn’t think Betty had done it, but whatever he had found had backed him into a corner.

“If you told me what you’d found I might be able to help, to explain it,” I said.

“I’m sorry Felicity, I can’t.” He gave me a weak smile and darted out of the door.

I followed him out into the grey light to see Betty’s face in the window of the police car as it pulled away. I gave her a thumbs up which was returned with a worried grin.

I looked at my watch and realised it was now twenty to one. I’d have lunch, make my bank appointment, and then go and see Betty at the police station once she knew what all of this was about.

I headed down West Street towards the Stump and Well to meet Damien Pound.

I couldn’t imagine what on earth they would have found in Betty’s car? I couldn’t believe there was anything incriminating in there. The threatening letters were interesting though. Had the writer of them finally had enough when Mrs Tranter hadn’t changed her ways as they’d insisted?

Still, the only three people who could have possibly added something to her drink in the café, were Betty, Joan Sithers and Damien Pound. I made a mental note to try and remember that Damien was a murder suspect when I was looking into those large brown eyes, and tried to put the whole murder out of my mind and enjoy the short walk through the town. The clouds were even breaking above my head, letting small shafts of golden sunlight hit the street and the green to my right.

The distinct lack of imagination in the naming of Stumpwell had always amused me. Halfway down the long green which ran between the dual high streets sat a small, crumbling well. A few feet form it was a gnarled old tree stump. This was apparently the inspiration for the town’s name. As I passed the objects on my way to the pub which also took its name from them, I wondered what the place had been called before the well had been built. Just ‘Stump’ presumably. I reached the doorway of the inn and entered, thinking that at least the forefathers of the town had had the good sense not to call it ‘Wellstump’.

9

Lunchtime Wine

Damien was already there when I arrived. He stood at the far end of the curved bar, ordering drinks. He turned to me and smiled, and I wondered if his vampness had told him I had entered.

“I hope you don’t mind, I ordered for you. A large Sauvignon Blanc.”

Yes I did bloody mind! Unfortunately, he’d got my drink order right, so it seemed petulant to say so.

“Thanks.”

“Shall we?”

He gestured towards a table for two in the corner and headed towards it.

The Stump and Well was an old pub with a cottage feel to it. Damien had to stoop to avoid the beams that weaved their way across the low ceilings which were stained yellow from the days when smoking inside was still allowed.

He sat and smiled at me. He was softly spoken and he had kind eyes. Despite being forward enough to ask me to dinner and order my drink for me, I got the impression he was fighting an innate shyness.

“So, can we get this murder business out of the way? I didn’t do it you know.”

I stared at him for a moment. He was handsome, but in a soft, wet kind of way.

“What were you doing in the Whole Latte Love yesterday morning?”

“Drinking a coffee and having one of the amazing muffins, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do there?”

He took a sip of his ale, a nervous smile still playing on his lips. Could this man really be a killer?

“And you didn’t know Mrs Tranter?”

His smile flickered slightly.

“No, I didn’t know, Mrs Tranter, was it?”

I paused, but continued to stare at him as I sipped at my wine. Suddenly I didn’t believe his answer. I was suspicious again.

“What do you do for a living?”

He seemed to relax slightly. Shifting backwards in his chair as he spoke.

“I run a company that specialises in shooting holidays just outside Cowton. We get all the yuppies from London out who think it will be fun to go and shoot some clays in the countryside. Then they fire a twelve-bore and crap themselves.”

Despite myself I laughed. The thought of slick, arrogant bankers getting scared appealed to me.

“Business good, is it?”

Again, the slight flicker of the nervous smile, as the power to it had been cut for a moment.

“Everyone seems to be struggling these days, but we do ok. Enough about me, tell me about your life. What do you do?”

I felt a rush of worry over my appointment at the bank and grabbed my wine, taking a large gulp.

“I’m in the process of taking over a business actually,” I lied. ‘In fact, that’s why I was in the bank today.”

I realised I was more nervous about it than I thought.

“Oh, well that’s great. What’s the business?”

My embarrassment turned to annoyance. Who was he to demand any answers from me. After all, he was still one of the two main murder suspects in my mind, I was supposed to be questioning him. I finished my wine and put the glass down on the table quite hard.

“I know that Mrs Tranter was looking at the accounts of your business.”

I looked him straight in the eye as the smile fell from his face. He lifted his pint glass and took three large gulps before putting it down and leaning forward across the table.

“You’re very clever Felicity.”

His tone had the air of defeat, but still with a smile. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“Yes, she did our accounts.”

“Why did you lie when you said you didn’t know her at my house?”

“Your mum and dad had just agreed to me staying there! I was hardly going to then tell them I was involved in some local murder the day I turn up!”

“Involved?”

He shook his head.

“Are you always so insistent that people you meet are murderers?”

I laughed again without wanting to. Now that I was in his company, I really couldn’t see him as a killer.

“Only handsome strangers who move into my house.”

Oh god. Did I really just say that? Lunchtime wine had clearly gone to my head already. I grabbed a menu from the condiment rack next to me and buried my head in it. I didn’t look up, but I could feel his grin burning into me.

“Well I know what I’m having for lunch,” He passed me the menu. “I’ll grab us some more drinks while you decide,” he said, getting up and heading to the bar.

I decided on the lasagne, but was mostly eyeing up the sticky toffee pudding desert when he returned with the same again.

“So, back to me being handsome?” he said, laughing.

“Wine at lunchtime will make you say ridiculous things,” I said in a voice that I hoped was as dismissive as possible. “So your business is in trouble?”

His face clouded over again for a moment as he took another deep drink of beer.

“My mum and dad have run the place for years. I’ve been general manager for a few years now, but that’s the day to day stuff, they handled all of the finances, etc. Recently it’s all been a bit much for them so I decided to take on more control. That’s when I hired Mrs Tranter and realised the full extent of the problems.” He sighed again, and picked at a beermat on the table. “I don’t think they knew they were doing it, but they’ve got us into a bit of a hole. We’ve had to sell the house to cover the tax bill. Mum and dad have gone to live with our cousins in Scotland, I’ve taken a room at your house. I should be able to keep the company going, but it will be tight.”

There was a moment of silence where I was sure he was dwelling on the things that had gone wrong for his family, and I sat feeling terrible about prying.

“I’m sorry.”

“No matter, I’m sure things will improve. After all, I’ve just moved in with a woman who thinks I’m a handsome murderer!”

We both laughed and it felt like some of the tension had vanished between us.

10

The Widow

The rest of the lunch had passed pleasantly. We’d talked about our families (both seemingly a mad as each other’s, it must be a vampire thing) and Stumpwell. I had surprised myself by being full of praise for the place, when I often joked about how I thought it was stuck in a time warp with Betty. The truth was, it was my home, and it didn’t matter how twee or claustrophobic I found it at times, it was mine.

We’d parted ways when I had suddenly realised that my appointment at the bank had been drawing near, I had said my thanks to him for picking up the bill, before dashing out onto the street. As the fresh air hit me and I began a fast walk towards the bank, I cursed myself for having the second glass of wine.

There were two ways that alcohol affected a vampire. The first was if the vamp in question had been neglecting their blood lust recently, as I had, then it tended to hit you harder than you had anticipated, something about your own blood thinning without drinking something else’s. The second applied if you were a good vamp and drinking enough of the dark red stuff your kind required, then, you could drink pretty much anyone under the table.

I reached the bank and was greeted by the same bouncing blonde that I had seen before. A cartoon bunny, I decided. That’s what she reminded me of.

“Hello again.” She beamed at me. “You’re here for your appointment with Mr Barnes at two thirty?”

No, I thought I’d give that a miss and just rob the place you bottle haired moron.

“Yes.”

“Then step right this way.”

She turned and trotted across the bank floor to a cubicle which ran floor to ceiling in frosted glass. She opened the door which was set into the outer wall and gestured for me to go inside.

“Mr Barnes will be with you in just a second, can I get you anything while you wait? Tea, coffee?”

“A coffee would be great,” I said, warming to enthusobunny. She nodded and bounced off, leaving me in the curious glass box. A few moments later, she returned and placed something brown and warm in front of me. It didn’t smell like I knew coffee to smell, but I thought I’d reserve judgement until it had cooled down and I’d tasted it.

The door opened and a boy walked in who looked like he was trying on his dad’s suit. It seemed so big for him, I got the impression he had fallen from somewhere and simply landed in it.

“Hello Miss Twyst, I’m Mr Barnes.”

Bloody hell.

“I hear you’re looking to take out a business loan?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent, well let’s have a look then shall we?”

He ran through some basic personal details before asking a series of questions, each one making my heart sink lower as I realised this was a waste of time.

Do you have any savings?

Do you own your own home?

Do you have any relevant experience of running a business?

All a big fat ‘no’ from me. I slurped at the brown sludge in the cup before me, the taste of which confirmed that the world was indeed against me.

When the child before me, the Adam’s apple in his pencil thin neck bobbing up and down like a yo-yo, gave me the inevitable bad news, I had known it was coming.

“I’m sorry Miss Twyst, but you can’t expect us to just trust that you’ll be able to run a sweet shop successfully.”

I contemplated leaping across the desk and giving him the full range of my more primal vampire urges, but instead, stood up and walked out.

&I arrived& at the police station in time to find DCI Shaw emerging from the front door, looking even more worried than he had done back at the café. His blonde head angled downward with deep frown lines etched across his forehead, he would have walked into me if it hadn’t been for my neat side-step. One advantage of the vampness is that I am the exact opposite of Betty in the agility line of things.

“Oh, I’m sorry I… Felicity.”

He stood staring at me, his mouth opening and closing a couple of times before taking my arm and leading me to the side of the small car park behind one of the larger sycamore trees.

“Betty’s in real trouble. We found threatening letters in her car to Mrs Tranter.”

“In her car?” I thought for a moment, there was no way that they were Betty’s, so… “Is her window still jammed open a crack on the passenger side?”

I had been the offending passenger who had managed to jam the thing last week.

“Yes, and I know that seems like the obvious explanation, but my bosses at Cowton say that she was the only one with the means and motive, and now there’s evidence against her. I mean, the letters look exactly like the ones Mrs Tranter had been receiving before.”

“What about Joan Sithers?” I asked, deciding to leave Mr Pound out of it for now. I told myself that this was because I didn’t really consider him a true suspect, and not because I’d just had a nice lunch with him.

“Well yes, that’s what I’m thinking. I mean, she was sat right there at the table, but she doesn’t seem to have any reason to.”

“From what I’ve heard of Mrs Tranter, she would have had as much reason as Betty, more so, as she would have been on the wrong end of her nastiness all day every day.”

“Yes, but she says she liked her! That they got on like a house on fire!”

“And let me guess, Betty is in there saying that she hated the old bag?”

He nodded grimly as we shared a moment to appreciate the steadfast honesty of the Haddock make-up.

“But come on,” I continued, “where do they think Betty got cyanide from?!”

He looked at me curiously.

“We haven’t revealed the type of poison to the press yet.”

“In fact, where would anyone get it from? I mean, it’s not like you can go and buy it in the chemist is it?” Hoping to move him along without going into my snooping the last time I was at the station.

“Yes, that’s been troubling me as well. I got Pearson to look into it, you can make crude forms of it from items you can buy at home, but I just can’t see Joan Sithers making up a batch in her kitchen.”

He looked at me with pleading eyes.

“If there’s anything you can remember that might help Betty, try.”

He gave me a nod and strode off to his car and was gone.

I made my way into the reception of the little station, but Pearson said I was unable to visit Miss Haddock at this time as they were in the middle of an inquiry and she was an important witness. She had sounded like she was reading from a script, and I noted that Shaw had obviously told her to say ‘witness’ rather than ‘suspect’. Touching, but it wasn’t going to help get Betty out of this mess.

I began the walk back into town in deep thought. Someone was obviously trying to frame Betty, which made sense. She was the one who had handed the victim the coffee. The stuck open window on her car provided a nice easy opportunity to add a little more to the evidence pile, especially as it was always parked at the back of the café where anyone could walk past it.

I looked up and realised that I had walked back into town the same way I had done the last time I had visited the police station and was now back on the same street that Mrs Tranter had lived.

As I approached the house, I saw that the scaffolding was still wrapped around it, but unlike before, I couldn’t see any movement on its wooden platforms. I stopped in front of the small, neat garden and admired the work that must have gone in to it. The border which ran around three sides of the small lawn was completely free from weeds, the side which ran along the tarmac driveway was trimmed to perfection. Rose bushes were spaced evenly along the beds and even though it was late in the year, they still bloomed an array of alternating yellow and red colours.

The front door of the house opened and the small figure of Mr Tranter appeared.

“Can I help you?”

I searched desperately for some legitimate reason I would be staring at the garden of a recently widowed middle aged man, but couldn’t think of one. So I said the first thing that popped into my head.

“I’m a friend of Joan Sithers.”

I figured he would either consider Joan Sithers a trusted loyal employee of his late wife, or he would think of her as the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Either way, I wasn’t expecting what he then did.

His eyes widened and he scuttled down the driveway towards me, threw an arm around me, and guided me back to the house and in through his front door.

He took me into a front room that smelt of wood polish and gestured for me to sit on a small beige two seater sofa with him. In an unexpected turn of intimacy, he took my hand.

“Is she ok?” His voice sounded pleading and desperate. His small eyes blinking at me from behind his thick glasses.

“Yes, she’s fine.”

Apart from possibly being a murderer I thought.

“Oh thank goodness,” he said, visibly slumping with relief.

I watched him for a moment, not wanting to say anything that would blow my cover. His eyes darted back to mine, but this time there was a glint of curiosity.

“Did she… say anything about Edith?”

Edith? Who on earth was Edith?! Then something clicked, it must have been his wife’s name.

“Only that she was poisoned.”

He nodded and looked down at his hands which were turning the wedding ring on his finger around and around.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

His head jerked upwards, a look of complete confusion on his face. As though I’d said something utterly baffling rather than the standard line you were supposed to deliver to a grieving widow.

“Oh, right, yes.”

“I’m sorry, but I really must be going, I just wanted to see how you were,” I said standing up and moving towards the door. He didn’t move, he just sat there looking small and sad as he spoke in a thin voice.

“Can you tell Joan that I understand, and that everything will be alright please?”

“Yes, of course.”

I gave him a smile and let myself out and into the street.

What on earth did that mean? He understood? Did that mean he also thought Joan had killed his wife, but that it was ok?! The way he had asked if she was ok when I had first said I was her friend told me two things. The first was that Mr Tranter clearly cared for Joan, was it possible they were having an affair? I pictured the two of them and quickly shook my head to get rid of the image. The second thing it told me was that they hadn’t spoken recently, probably since his wife’s death. That was strange surely? I mean, what about his wife’s business? Didn’t he need to talk to the only remaining employee to sort out what was going to happen there?

I looked at my watch. I needed to get home if I was to make the welcoming dinner for my new housemates.

11

Guests for Dinner

My mum was like a ball in a pinball machine. She bounced from the stove to the large wooden table which was covered in trays bursting with food, then off again to the sink to drain pasta which was added to a sauce that was bubbling gently back on the stove. I looked around the room at the organised chaos and whistled.

“Just how many people are you cooking for here?”

“Just us and our three guests dear.”

I estimated that it would take the six of us around nine days to get through this at three meals a day, but decided not to say anything. It was best not to disturb her when she was like this. There is a kind of… single mindedness to zombies. My cousin Amanda, who had been a zombie for only a few years, was just the same. Becoming obsessed over the smallest details, or beginning a task and continuing it with such focus and determination, that they ended up going way, way overboard. I scanned the sausages wrapped in bacon, and the whole roast duck in orange sauce, and the six individual pies and was pretty sure this was one of those times.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Oh no dear, you just go and mingle.”

I watched her for a while. I had always worried growing up that she had felt like an outsider living with me and my dad. Vampires and zombies were similar in that they both craved things and if they didn’t get them, there were consequences. Where they truly differed though, was in their outlook in life. All the zombies I have ever met were fastidious, obsessive and industrious. They were all also rather nice. Werewolves like my cousin Laura though, they were a different kettle of fish altogether.

I left my mum to it and moved through to the sitting room where my dad was again holding court with the brandy.

“Felicity! Come and listen to Mrs Bard’s fascinating story about how she once brought down a chandelier in the Apollo Theatre!”

I moved towards the group and noticed Damien’s eyes rolling at me from behind the shrunken figure of Mrs Bard in her wheelchair.

“Well as I was saying,” croaked the ancient banshee, “I was seeing this young chap, name of Harold. Big strapping thighs he had, like tree trunks they were, and that’s not the only thing that was big, he had a…”

“The chandelier Mrs Bard?” my dad interjected urgently. His mouth was still turned in a smile, but now I was closer, I could see that the rest of his face didn’t agree. A small bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.

“Oh, right. Well, halfway through a performance of some boring Russian play, all about bread or something, I screamed so loudly that I loosened the fittings in one of the main chandeliers and it came crashing down on the orchestra pit.”

My dad laughed far louder than was strictly necessary.

“Oh yes, very good. Excellent! You must have been quite something to hear back then Mrs Bard.”

“Why did you scream?” I asked. I’d never really understood banshees. There weren’t many of them in our family, and the ones I had met outside of our widespread descendants seemed to have a topic of conversation mostly focused around vocal exercises and throat lozenges.

“Well,” Mrs Bard continued, turning to me with a face so thin she looked like she might crumble in the gentle breeze from the open windows, “this young man I mentioned, with the strapping thighs, got bored of the play, and the next thing I know me dress is down by me ankles and…”

“Dinner is served!” my mum announced from the doorway, breaking Mrs Bard’s flow and causing my dad to look like a man who had inadvertently wandered into a lion enclosure only to be yanked out at the last minute by a zoo keeper he would send Christmas cards to for the rest of his life.

He ushered everyone through to the dining room before Mrs Bard could regain her thread, and we sat to the feast my mum had prepared.

I was seated between Damien and Mr Shaw, who out of the corner of my eye I watched open, then fold, then reopen and place his napkin on his lap. He then began to tackle the mountain of food in front of him by lifting a serving plate and offering it to me before then serving himself.

“So, Mr Shaw, how do you like Stumpwell so far?”

“It is perfectly acceptable.”

“Oh, good.” That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the town I called home. “And have you seen much of it yet?”

“I have visited the lumber yard at the edge of the town. It was acceptable.”

“The lumber yard? Well you won’t have seen much of the town’s beauty if that’s the only place you’ve been!”

A silence fell across the table as Mr Shaw dropped the serving spoon he had been holding. He closed his eyes and began speaking as though repeating a mantra.

“Wood is the most powerful substance on earth. As a tree it purifies the air and provides us fruit, shade and company. In death, it can become whatever man intends it to be, whatever we can conjure from the depths of our imagination.”

I glanced around the table looking for some sign that I wasn’t the only one who thought this was crazy talk. My dad was shaking his head at me slowly. I could almost hear his voice in my mind saying ‘don’t say a word.’

“Wood? It has its uses I suppose.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from Mr Shaw and he stood, addressing my mother.

“Thank you for this wonderful meal Mrs Twyst, but I feel I shall eat alone, later. If you would be so kind as to leave me a plate in the kitchen?”

“Oh yes, of course Mr Shaw.”

“God evening,” he said, bowing to everyone around the table but me.

“What on earth was that about?!” I said when the door had closed. My father dropped his head to his hands as Damien explained.

“Mr Shaw is rather fond of wood.”

“Rather fond?! He reacted like I’d insulted his mother!”

“He’s a bit obsessed with it dear. He makes ever such lovely sculptures though, doesn’t he Algernon?”

My mum never seemed fazed by anything. My dad lifted his head to agree with her, shooting me a look as he dished himself out a serving of new potatoes.

“Yes, they are lovely dear.”

“Anyway,” my mother continued, “I’m sure you’ll make up in the morning, Felicity. Maybe you could bring him a nice piece of wood?”

“You are joking? You want me to bring him a piece of wood?”

“Yes dear, then he can carve you something lovely from it. Now come on, don’t let your food go cold.”

I glanced at Damien who was smirking slightly as he helped himself to the food.

My parents were embarrassing enough on a daily basis, but now I had an audience in Damien. Worse than that, I’d just caught myself glancing at whether said audience had strapping thighs like the man in Mrs Bard’s story.

He did.

12

New Evidence

The next day, after speaking briefly to a tired Betty on the phone from the police station, I stepped into the kitchen to drink my daily blood and found a note from Mr Shaw.

I apologise for my outburst. I can become unusually tempestuous on the subject of nature’s greatest bounty, please accept my sincere apologies.

Oh god, I was going to have to bring him a piece of wood back now.

I washed the blood down with a slice of toast which I ate as I left and began the walk into town. I had woken up with the sudden realisation that there were still two people from the day of the murder that I hadn’t spoken to. The Boon sisters.

It wasn’t that I thought they were involved, I knew they couldn’t have been, they hadn’t left their normal table in the corner of the café until Sandra had emerged from the back room with the port. Long after Mrs Tranter had been killed.

One thing was for sure, it wouldn’t be hard to find them.

I arrived at the café and sure enough, they were sat at their normal table facing out across the rest of the tables.

“Morning Sandra.”

“Morning. How is she?”

“She’s ok, tired. I don’t think those holding cells are much good for sleeping in. They’ve got someone from Cowton coming down to talk to her today, then they’re going to either charge her or let her go.”

“Bloody hell. What are we going to do?! She obviously didn’t do it!”

“Don’t worry, I’m working on it, but a coffee, a chocolate orange muffin and two of your iced fingers would help.”

She looked at me curiously, but nodded and brought my order to me on a tray which I took and headed towards the Boon twins.

“Morning ladies, I thought I’d bring you a little treat, on the house.”

“Ooh how lovely! Isn’t that lovely Tracy?”

“Oh it’s ever so lovely Lottie! We always said she was a lovely girl didn’t we?”

“We did. Lovely girl we said.”

The twins often had this way of talking about you as though you weren’t there. Being rather plump rosy cheeked older ladies, it was endearing rather than annoying.

“I was wondering if I could ask you about the other day, when the lady died?”

“Ha! Oh yes! Well it’s not surprising if you go on like that is it?”

Go on like that? What did that mean?

“Well no. You treat your body like a rubbish tip and soon you’ll pay the price.” Lottie said sternly to my right. I had no idea what they were talking about.

“Did you see anyone put anything into her drink by any chance?”

They both pulled themselves upright.

“It’s not done to speak badly of the dead,” Tracy said raising her nose in the air.

“I’m not asking you to, I just wondered if you’d seen anyone put something in her drink.”

“We didn’t like to say to that young police chappie, I mean, he’s not from round here is he? We can’t go around telling things about our own and putting them in a bad light to strangers can we?” Lottie said before grasping the iced bun in front of her and attacking it at the same time as her sister.

I leaned back, sipped at my coffee and tried to think back to the day of the murder myself. Had I seen anything different? Anything that I was missing that could help prove Betty’s innocence?

I jumped, spilling coffee down the front of my dark green dress. Just before I had heard Joan Sithers’ scream, I had heard a metallic clang. As though someone had dropped something metal on the hard tiles of the café floor. Then, Joan Sithers had been at the side of the body, bending down. Why would someone who had screamed in horror, then get so close to the body?

What had the twins just said? Treating her body badly, carrying on like that, don’t want to speak ill of the dead?

I dabbed at the coffee on my dress with a napkin and leaned forward to the two women again.

“Did you see Mrs Tranter put something in her own coffee?!”

“May have done, but I don’t like to pass judgement on those that have passed.”

Ignoring the rather poetic nature of this comment, I continued.

“Was she using a hip flask? A metal one?”

“She did like her coffee Irish in the morning, but you won’t hear that from us,” Lottie said.

“That’s right,” Tracy agreed.

“Thanks.”

I jumped up from the table and dashed across the café to the table Mrs Tranter had been sat on when she died and dived to my hands and knees. There was nothing under the table other than a few crumbs of breakfast muffin that someone had obviously dropped that morning. I looked around for another minute or so, even checking behind the large plant pot that stood around five feet away. Nothing.

“What an earth are you doing? Other than scaring off my customers that is.” Sandra appeared above me as I looked under the tale for what must have been the fifth time.

“The day after the murder, did you find a hip flask anywhere?”

“A hip flask? No, why?”

I jumped up and headed for the door.

“I need to go to the police station right now, can you do without me today?”

“Well I guess so,” Sandra said, throwing her hands up in the air.

I burst out of the door and began running down West Street.

13

Unravelling

I burst through the doors of Stumpwell police station to find DCI Marsh stood with a middle aged man who had the shape of a beach ball. I ignored the company and got straight to the point.

“Marsh, you have to go and search Joan Sithers’ house right now. She’s been lying to us from the start.”

He looked in panic from me to the round gentlemen and back again.

“Er, Miss Twyst, this is Superintendent Smith.”

“Hello.” I nodded towards Smith before turning back to Marsh. “We have to go now! It might already be too late, she might have got rid of it by now.”

“Excuse me sir,” Marsh said as he took my arm and guided me away. I couldn’t help but notice that the look he had given his boss; it was one involving rolling eyes and suggested I was an annoyance he’d have to get rid of.

“For god’s sake, what are you going on about?!” he said when we had reached the car park outside.

“I’m trying to tell you who killed Mrs Tranter so you let my friend go!” I shouted back, my ears burning with anger at the look I’d seen him give.

He sighed and sat on the small wall which ran along the disabled ramp into the station.

“Ok, tell me.”

“The morning of the murder, I heard a clang, like something made from metal had been dropped.”

“Ok…”

“And then I spoke to the Boon twins and they said that Tranter used to have a hip flask.”

“A hip flask? Mr Tranter said she never drank!”

I frowned.

“Well apparently she did it every morning. Anyway, you have to ask, why didn’t you find the hip flask when you went over the café that day?”

“You’re saying someone removed it?”

“I’m saying Joan Sithers took it. After Mrs Tranter died she screamed like she was shocked, but it was all an act. Next minute, she was bent down by the body. Now why would she do that other than to take the hip flask?”

He stood up and put his hand on my shoulder, and I was surprised to feel a rush of excitement. I hoped my cheeks weren’t turning red like my ears.

“Thank you Felicity, I’ll look into it straight away.”

He moved away, leaving me still feeling self-conscious from his touch, before he turned back to me as he reached the station door.

“You should stay out of it now though. It could be dangerous. I’ll get to the bottom of it all.”

He turned and went back in through the door, leaving me angry again, all thoughts of his touch, gone.

&I arrived back& on the dual high streets of Stumpwell and made my way over to the Whole Latte Love Café in a thoughtful mood. I was sure that Joan Sithers had poisoned her boss, and some of the things that had bothered me about the death had started to make sense. For instance, why had the killer decided to poison Mrs Tranter in public? If Joan Sithers was the murderer, she would have had any manner of opportunity to poison her boss every day in the office. Then though, she would have had to move the body or there would have been a suspect pool of one. Much better to kill in public and frame Betty.

Putting the threatening letters in Betty’s car was a nice touch. She must have noticed the stuck window and thought of the letters her employee had received. Joan would have almost certainly seen them, maybe even opened them as Mrs Tranter’s personal assistant. It would have been easy for her to copy how they looked before slotting them through the gap in Betty’s window. That seemed like a happy opportunity rather than something planned though. Joan Sithers must have known she would be a prime suspect if she was going to be sat at the same table when it happened.

I opened the door to the café and found it pretty much as quiet as when I’d left it.

“Sorry for running out on you,” I said to Sandra who was behind the counter spooning her famous muffin mix into moulds. She never did any of the mixing out the front, it was all strictly behind the double doors into the kitchen where no prying eyes could see the ingredients.

“Oh that’s alright. I’m not paying you mind.”

I smiled.

“That’s ok. Look, as it’s still quiet, can I skip the rest of today?”

She stopped what she was doing and looked up at me, resting her hands on the counter in front of her.

“Is this about Betty? What happened this morning?”

I trusted Sandra completely, but I wasn’t ready to start giving her my theories on the murder, especially when I was now wondering if I was even right.

“I think I can help get her out of trouble and find out who really killed Mrs Tranter, I just need time.”

She frowned before leaning across the counter and squeezing my hand.

“You know I thought this thing with Betty was all a silly misunderstanding, the police being too eager, but now… I’m worried about her.”

“I know, me too.” I squeezed her hand back and smiled. “You know me though, I don’t give up easily. I’ll let you know what’s happening later.”

“Be careful!” she called after me as I left, passing through the door onto the street.

I didn’t even know where I was going. I needed to clear my head, try and think about things differently. I strolled onto the green and began to walk down the narrow winding path which ran from end to end through its centre.

Halfway down there was a small copse of trees known as the fumble, it was a well-known spot for couples to go, so the name may have had some meaning attached.

I stopped at the old bench which sat at its centre and decided to run through the things I knew. The trees acted as a barrier, making the sounds of the town muffled and soothing. A good place to think.

Mrs Tranter was poisoned with cyanide. Joan Sithers had then removed the hip flask that Tranter had used to add whiskey to her morning coffee. Someone had then tried to frame Betty by putting threatening letters through Betty’s car window.

What conclusions could I make from these scant facts? Well, Joan Sithers wouldn’t have removed the hip flask unless she had put the poison into it, surely? And she would have almost certainly known what the threatening letters looked like and so she could have reproduced them. In fact, she may have been the one sending them before. Let’s face it, working for Tranter must have been a nightmare. Imagine living with her?!

My thoughts turned to the worried little bald man who had been her husband. He had seemed so concerned for Joan, he must have feelings for her. What if they were reciprocated and they were having an affair? Wait, what if Joan had picked up the hip flask to protect her lover? Maybe she was in on it and her part of the plan was to get rid of the evidence? The husband could have easily slipped the poison into his wife’s hip flask at their home.

I felt a tingle run down the back of my neck, a sure sign my vampness was kicking in. I didn’t move, but closed my eyes and concentrated on my surroundings. Vampires didn’t need their eyes when they were in danger, and that’s what this was. Danger. That and anger were the only things that would make my vampness kick in, well possibly the sight of blood.

I felt a presence behind me, moving slowly closer to my bench. I waited until the shape was just a few feet away before I jumped up, spinning at the same time to land with my feet on the bench and my right fist already swinging. It swung without hitting anything, setting me off balance and tilting me forward. With my vampness fully enabled, I adjusted quickly, setting my right foot on top of the bench and leaping off to the right of the small balded figure in front of me.

“You tried to hit me!” Mr Tranter spluttered in shock.

“Well you shouldn’t go sneaking up on young women in the woods. Lucky you’re short,” I snapped, trying to keep my fangs hidden behind my lips.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” He looked at me blinking. “I just saw you come in here from the street and thought I’d just ask you if you’d seen Joan at all?”

I remembered my role as Joan Sithers’ friend that I’d played at his house.

“Oh, no actually, I haven’t. Why? Haven’t you?”

He looked at me confused.

“Of course not! Remember? She said we shouldn’t see each other for a while after…”

A while after the murder?! So they were in on it! Although, why would he be telling some friend of Joan’s he’d never met before. He continued before I could answer.

“I mean at first I was worried, but when I thought about it, I knew she was right. I mean, we didn’t want the police to think we had anything to do with it just because of our… relationship. Now though, I mean they have who did it in custody don’t they? Some waitress or something?”

I flinched at this slightly, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to interrupt his flow.

“I don’t see why we can’t talk now. But she won’t answer my calls! So I went round to her house, but she’s not there either.”

He looked at me through his thick spectacles mournfully. Before I could think up an appropriate response, my phone buzzed in my pocket and I pulled it out, glancing at a number I didn’t recognise on the screen before answering.

“Hello?”

“Felicity, it’s Marsh. We’ve just got to Joan Sithers house and she definitely killed Tranter.”

I looked up at Mr Tranter who was looking up at the trees with glazed eyes.

“How do you know?”

“We’ve found cyanide at her house, and more of the threatening letters.”

“So you’re taking her in?”

“No. She’s dead Felicity. She took cyanide herself.”

14

Doubts

I put the phone back in my pocket and looked at Mr Tranter in front of me. No matter what he thought of his wife, she had died only a few days ago. Now, so had the woman he was clearly in love with.

“I’m sorry Mr Tranter, but Joan is dead.”

“Wh…wh…what? She can’t be.” He stood blinking at me.

“I’m afraid she poisoned herself using the same thing she used on your wife.”

I hadn’t meant to say it as bluntly as that, but I was still unsure of his involvement in all of this, and wanted answers.

“So, so, she did kill Edith.”

It wasn’t a question, just a flat, sad statement. He slumped onto the bench and I sat next to him.

“You weren’t sure?” I was conscious I was still playing the role of Joan’s friend, and wasn’t ready to let him know what I did or didn’t know.

“She called me straight after… well you know, and said that we needed to not see each other for a while until things had died down. She was strange on the phone and I could tell she was upset. She kept telling me not to worry and that she’d be there for me. Typical Joan, always thinking of others.”

“So you didn’t hear from her again after that?”

“No, well, only when you came to the house.”

I felt a pang of guilt at conveying a message I had never been given.

“I just don’t understand why she would have done this?” He looked down as he scuffed at the ground, his short legs barely reaching it as it sloped away from the bench.

I had to admit. He had a point. Why had Joan Sithers killed herself? Guilt at what she had done? That didn’t seem likely. She certainly hadn’t seemed very remorseful of anything when I had talked to her at her office. In fact, she had been preparing the whole thing to be folded and the clients passed on. It reminded me of something.

“Mr Tranter, what’s happened with your wife’s Company? Did you not want to keep it running?”

“Me? Oh no. That was all Edith’s field. I’m afraid I know nothing about it. I instructed the lawyers to sort it all out for me.”

I nodded, that explained it. He was just passing it on and didn’t really know anything about the business, but still, he had moved very quickly.

“All pretty quick then?” I asked as innocently as I could muster. He scuffed the ground again and sighed.

“Edith left some urgent repair bills and with my back I can’t work, so…”

“Oh I see, I’m sorry to hear that.”

We sat in silence for a minute or two and although unspoken, it felt like we were both thinking of Joan Sithers. I just couldn’t buy that she had killed herself. When I had seen her in her office, she was either not feeling guilty because she hadn’t murdered her boss, or she was she just such a stone cold killer that it hadn’t affected her? I really couldn’t see it.

I said my goodbyes and left the small man still swinging his legs on the bench as I emerged from the small copse of trees onto the green the way I had come. To my right a car on East Street was sat with its engine running as a car from the other direction pulled up alongside it. I bent down slightly to see through the windowed glass of the nearest car and saw a fat brown envelope being passed from the car that had pulled over to the one parked.

Two men sat in the parked car, and almost filled it with their bulk. I felt like I had seen them somewhere before but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I slowed my pace to look at the other car, but as soon as the exchange was made it sped away without me getting a look at the owner.

What was wrong with me?! One little part time murder investigation which I didn’t even really help solve and suddenly I’m seeing shady goings on all over the place! I shook my head and looked up to see Betty stepping out of a taxi in front of the Whole Latte Love. I jogged ahead, calling to her just before she reached the door. She said nothing, but turned and hugged me as though she hadn’t seen me for years.

“Come on, let’s get inside,” I said, guiding her towards the door.

As soon as we’d stepped in, Sandra had come bouncing over to land a huge hug on Betty and seat us both at a table before vanishing with promises of muffins and port.

“Are you ok?” I asked the inevitable stupid question once we were alone.

“Yeah, god, I thought I’d never see you again!”

I smiled, Betty always had a tendency towards the dramatic.

“Well it’s all sorted now,” I said squeezing her hand, although something nagged at the back of mind as I said it. “Did they tell you about Joan Sithers?”

Betty’s eyes turned into saucers.

“I know! Can you believe it! I never thought she would have had it in her! It’s funny as well really…”

I waited for her to go on and realised I was holding my breath.

“What is?” I said quickly, getting impatient.

“Oh it’s nothing, I just remembered how upset she was at those letters that Mrs Tranter was getting, seems strange now if she was the one sending them.”

“She was upset about them?! When was this?!”

Oh a few weeks ago, Mrs Tranter was even worse than normal and she had given me a right earful. Joan Sithers went to the loo and as she passed me she said sorry for her friend’s behaviour, but she’d had some nasty hate mail and it had upset her. I said that was terrible, because even though it was Mrs Tranter, you know.”

I nodded, willing her to keep going.

“Well then she said it was a cowardly thing to do and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

“That is odd.” I slumped back in my chair as Sandra arrived back and Betty began filling her in on the horrors of the Stumpwell holding cells.

So it didn’t seem likely that Joan Sithers was the author of the nasty letters her boss had been receiving. Unless that was a clever double bluff to put people off the scent, but she was hardly likely to try and persuade a waitress she didn’t even know of her innocence. No, it was more likely she hadn’t written them, which meant someone else had. And if someone else had written them, why did Marsh find a load of them at Joan Sithers’ house? Had she taken them home from the office? If so, why?

I zoned back in to the conversation and realised they were both looking at me.

“Is that ok?” Betty said

“Sorry I drifted off, is what ok?”

“If I stay at yours tonight? I can’t face going home on my own.”

“Oh, course, but don’t forget we’ve got our lodgers now.”

“Oh. Oh!” Betty’s face broke into a grin and she jumped up from the table. “Come on then, we don’t want to be late for dinner!”

She said a hurried goodbye to Sandra and dashed out of the door, dragging me with her.

15

Reality Bites

“Betty dear! How nice to see you. All that trouble at the police station sorted now?”

Only my mum could make being arrested for murder sound like a playground spat.

“Yes thanks Marjory. Felicity said it would be ok if I stayed tonight, I hope that’s alright, I know you have guests now.”

“Oh, of course dear! You can have your usual room, we didn’t give that one up to anybody else.”

Betty smiled. Betty had never known her dad, and her mum had died from cancer a few years ago. Mum had been hinting that she should move in with us ever since. I had tried to explain that she already had one daughter who should have moved out by now, she didn’t need to add another.

“Everyone’s out on the terrace having cocktails, I’d guess you’re in need of a drink.”

“Definitely,” I answered, and grabbing a small chunk of the cheese my mum was slicing, we headed off towards the terrace which ran along the back of the house overlooking the lawns. We left the house through the drawing room doors and stepped out onto the worn and mossy terrace with its slightly crumbling wall of fluted stone. My dad, Damien Pound and Mrs Bard were gathered at one end in a circle around Mr Shaw who seemed to be holding something.

“Well it’s marvellous Reg!” I heard my dad’s voice ring out. Reg? He’d obviously moved to first name terms with Mr Shaw. “So much detail, it really is very impressive.”

Damien looked up from the group as we moved towards them, his head at first glancing up, then doing a double take at Betty he suddenly stood up very straight. My dad noticed and turned around.

“Betty my dear! Good to see you!” He kissed her lightly on the cheek before moving to me and doing the same. “Betty here, is Felicity’s oldest friend, and don’t worry, she knows all about our little peculiarities!” The group visibly relaxed. “This is Mrs Bard. Mrs Bard, this is Betty.”

The thin woman looked her up and down and gave a wheezy cackle.

“You go in and out in all the right places my girl! You’ll give Reg here another heart attack!” She cackled again and my dad quickly moved her gaze onto Mr Shaw.

“And this is Reginald Shaw.”

“Delighted to meet you and I assure you my heart is in fine condition.” He gave a sideways glance at Mrs Bard.

“Only ‘cause it hasn’t had to do anything for twenty years!” She cackled again before my dad moved Betty on to Damien.

“And this is Damien Pound.”

“Nice to meet you Betty.” He took her hand and lifted it briefly to his lips. He hadn’t done that when he’d met me.

“Nice to meet you too.”

Betty’s voice sounded strange, as though it had dropped an octave and been dipped in honey. I looked at her expression and knew immediately that this was bad news.

“Can I get you a cocktail Betty?” Damien said, taking her arm and leading her towards the small mobile bar that dad wheeled out onto the terrace in summer.

“Oh, yes please!” Betty giggled giving me a giddy grin as she went.

“Get me one!” I called after them as my dad spoke to me in a low voice.

“All that nasty business with the murder over then is it?”

“Hopefully,” I said, unsure whether I thought it really was or not.

“Murder?!” Mrs Bard’s hoarse voice rasped. Whatever state her voice was in, her ears certainly had no issue. “I don’t believe a word of what they said on the telly!”

“What did they say on the TV?” I asked, moving over to her.

“They said she poisoned her boss and then topped herself! Load of old rubbish!”

“Why do you say that?” I said taking the cocktail that Betty handed to me as she returned with Damien from the bar.

“Well they said she’d been writing nasty letters to her beforehand. If you’re writing letters, you have time to plan to make sure you get away with it! You don’t have all the letters and the poison lying around your house!”

She had a point, and it was exactly what I had been thinking. I could sense my dad was uncomfortable at this topic of conversation, or maybe just at Mrs Bard being allowed to speak at all and quickly dived in to guide me away.

“Felicity, look what Reg has made.” He waved at the object Reg now held up in front of him. It was a wooden branch with an intricate carving of a vine covering its surface.

“I was just explaining to your father Miss Twyst, that the vine known as the Kudzu in south east Asia, wraps around a tree and eventually covers every part. Sadly, this eventually kills them through heavy shading.”

He said this in such a sombre tone, you’d have thought a loved one of his had just died, but I barely noticed. Something about the small piece of wood and the idea of a vine wrapped around a tree had stopped me in my tracks. Something about the imagery of it. I nodded and smiled as I listened to Reg explain how he had carved the piece to represent death after seeing about the murder on the news. Again, something jolted in me.

I drained my cocktail quickly and after making my excuses, moved off to make another one. Betty offered to help and followed me.

“You didn’t tell me Damien was so…” she paused trying to think of the right word, “smouldering!”

I raised one eyebrow at her as I poured a long shot of gin in the long island ice tea I was making.

“Smouldering? Really? This isn’t one of those slushy books you read where it’s all ‘manhood’ this and ‘throbbing’ that.”

She punched me on the arm playfully, making me drop the slice of lemon I had just picked up.

“He bloody is smouldering! Seriously though, he’s nice right?”

“Yes,” I said stirring my glass, “but you know he’s a vampire? That has… complications.”

“Oh you know that’s never bothered me!” she replied annoyed. It was true. Betty had taken the news that there were various members of what were generally referred to as the undead in popular culture, pretty much in her stride.

“Well yes, but you’re not normal are you?” I said laughing. She punched me on the arm again, but her gaze was directed over my shoulder.

“He is pretty yummy though, right?” she said dreamily.

“Betty, I’m serious. Don’t rush into anything, you don’t know everything about vampires you know.”

“Oh come on, you and your dad are harmless!”

I sighed. I had told Betty a lot about vampires like my dad and I, about zombies like my mum and werewolves like my cousin Portia, but I had left out some of the more… gruesome details. I realised it was high time that she had a little chat with my dad.

&Betty& and I sat in armchairs opposite my dad in his snug. The room was lined with books and dominated by a large oak desk which stood in front of the far wall from which a large banner with the family crest hung.

There was a heavy silence as my father and I both stared at Betty, who in turn was staring at the fire.

“And this can happen at any moment?” she said quietly.

“Well, not at any moment, but given the right circumstances…” My dad trailed off and looked at me with a slight shrug of his shoulders. “I think I’ll leave you two to have a chat alone now,” he said, standing up and walking to the door.

“You ok?” I asked hopefully.

“Yeah, I just didn’t really think about it I guess.”

“Well all those films were based on something…” I said.

It was true. The thousands of books and films that had been produced involving vampires pretty much all had an element of truth to them, but they were missing one detail. It’s true that vampires have to drink blood, but they were perfectly placid, normal people as long as they got their regular dose. The trouble was, if they didn’t. A vampire who had gone a day or two without blood was not one you’d want to get on the wrong side of. One that had gone a week? Run. Very fast.

“So if you didn’t have blood for a while, you’d leap at me and kill me?” Betty said, turning her huge dark eyes on me.

“Probably,” I nodded. “Sorry.”

“Even me?!”

“I’m afraid so. At a certain point, it could be anyone.”

Even just talking about it was getting my vampness going. Betty’s heartbeat was beating in my ears, making me feel like a cartoon wolf that sees a sheep as a leg of lamb. I wasn’t about to tell her this though, I think she’d had enough for one night. I’d dragged her away from the party and asked my dad to follow us. Once safely in the snug, he’d told her about his Uncle Arthur.

According to my dad, Uncle Arthur had been the life and soul of the party, even when there wasn’t a party to be the life and soul of. Funny, charming and apparently a ladies’ man, Arthur had lived life to the full. One day though, he had overdone the brandy during a poker game and had got into an altercation with someone who had accused him of cheating. Before things got out of hand and he had seriously hurt the man, the police had turned up and promptly arrested him, keeping him in for twenty-four hours.

Unfortunately, having been on a three day bender, he was already dangerously in need of a drop of the red stuff (hence the fight). The extra twenty-four hours made him sober, hungover and hungry. When they’d opened the door to his cell the next day, he killed two officers within minutes before being taken down with a tazer. Apparently he’s doing quite well in prison now, he gets cows blood sneaked into him by a sympathetic vamp who works in the prison kitchen.

“Come on, let’s go and have another drink,” I said, standing up.

“Definitely,” Betty said, smiling. “Just don’t expect me to make you a Bloody Mary.”

16

A Penny Drops

The next morning I woke with a start and a banging headache. Betty and I had ventured back to the terrace and decided to drink until things weren’t awkward anymore, which had turned out to be more cocktails than you’d think. It seemed to have done the trick though, Betty had been back flirting with Damien within just a couple of hours.

For some reason as I lay staring at the ceiling, I thought of the carving Reg Shaw had been showing off last night. There was something it was reminding me of, but I couldn’t for the life of me think what.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up slowly. I waited for the room to stop spinning and headed off for a shower.

Feeling much restored as I moved down to the kitchen, my phone buzzed in the pocket of my faded and battered jeans, which although had seen better days, were so comfy I was loathed to get rid of them. I saw Sandra’s face on the screen and answered.

“Hi Sandra. I thought I wasn’t in until eleven? Have I got it wrong?”

“Oh no dear, you’re right, I was calling about something else. Do you think you could come in to the café now?”

“Erm, yeah, but why?”

“I’ve got a little proposition for you and Betty, so bring her as well. She’s not answering her phone, but I know she’s at yours.”

How mysterious…

“Ok, I’ll go and wake her up now. See you in a bit.”

I downed some blood form our stock in the secret fridge, deciding that Betty probably didn’t need to see that this morning, and made my way up the stairs again to the room that Betty always stayed in when she stopped over.

Its door was only a few feet from my own, but the room backed into a different wing of the house as the two rooms were both situated on a corner. I rounded the ninety degree turn in the corridor and knocked on the door.

A moment paused before I knocked again and a muffled moan came through the thick wood which I took as a signal to enter. The room was dark as the curtains were still shut and I could barely make out the prone figure of Betty spread-eagled on the bed, her hair drifting around her on the sheets. Her face was buried in a pile of soft pillows.

“Betty, you need to get up.”

“That really, really doesn’t sound like a good plan,” she answered in a croaky voice.

“Tough, as it’s the only one we have,” I answered and walked over to the window, pulling the curtains wide. She wailed as though I’d thrown cold water on her, but eventually got up and began to get ready as I went and made us both coffee and toast before we ventured out towards the café, both sporting large sunglasses.

We hardly spoke on the short walk, but by the time we had reached the café, we were both feeling better from the fresh, cool morning air.

“Morning girls, come on through to the back,” Sandra said as we walked in. We said hi to Tracy as she passed carrying a tray of coffees and moved through the swing door where Sandra sat with three full to the brim port glasses in front of her.

“Oh god, what are you trying to do to us?!” Betty said, slumping into one of the chairs by the kitchen unit and averting her gaze from the spirit.

“Rough night was it?” Sandra asked. “Well tough, we’re celebrating.” She pushed the glasses towards us, causing a fresh moan from Betty.

“Celebrating? Why?” I asked, confused.

“Drink first.” Sandra gestured at the small glasses in front of us. It felt like she was testing us which despite my affection for her, got my back up slightly. I grabbed the drink and knocked it back, wincing as it burned the back of my dry throat.

“Done, now what are we celebrating?” I folded my arms and stared at Sandra who laughed at the sight of my annoyance. She turned to Betty who had put her head in her hands again and decided to give up on expecting her to drink.

“Well, I’ve got an offer to put to both of you.”

“An offer?” Betty said, finally raising her head.

“Yes, if you both stop asking questions long enough, I’ll tell you!”

Betty made a zipping motion across her lips and we both waited expectantly until Sandra continued.

“You know I’ve been thinking of retiring for a while, well it’s happening. I can’t face going through another summer rush, so I’ve booked myself a three month cruise and I’m off.”

We sat in silence for a moment, unsure of what to say. I recovered first.

“That’s brilliant Sandra! Well-deserved I’d say!”

“Thanks love. Now neither of you need to worry about your jobs, you can have them as long as you want them.”

“So you’re not selling up?”

“No, I’m not. My Aunt Agatha died and left me some money, so that’s paying for the cruise and will clear off my debts and that still leaves a little.

Debts. I jumped up from the table, sending my chair screeching backwards across the tiles.

“Sandra, it sounds great, really, but I have to go.” I turned and dashed for the door, ignoring Sandra’s voice calling me back.

I left the café and ran straight to the small door which sat to one side of the butchers, leaping up the steps which led me to the dim low ceilinged room above.

A few moments later, I stepped back out onto the bright light of the street and blinked, waiting for my eyes to adjust. OK, that was part of the puzzle solved, but there was more…

I looked up and saw a shop sign swinging above me. I felt another rush of adrenaline and dived inside.

Five minutes later, I stepped back out onto the street and pulled my phone from my pocket.

“James, it’s Felicity. You need to meet me at the Tranter’s place now.”

I hung up without waiting for him to answer, and started running.

17

High Drama

My vampness had now kicked in so hard, it was all I could do not snatch at the odd pigeon I sent scattering as I ran and take a bite. I tried to hold back on my run so I didn’t raise any eyebrows. Vamps can move fast when they were fired up, and I was just about as fired up as I had ever been.

The streets passed in a blur as I leapt over puddles still left from the overnight rain and dodged the odd startled passerby. By the time I reached the street where the Tranter’s lived, I was breathing hard and on full alert. I moved down the street slowly, I didn’t want to attract any attention.

As the house came into view, all sides of it covered in the scaffolding that Reg Shaw’s carving had reminded me so much of. It was like ivy round the trunk of a tree, covering and stifling the house, and now I realised with the same result as Mr Shaw’s vine. Death.

As I neared, I saw a flash of movement towards the top of the scaffolding. I looked down the road both ways, but there was no sign of James. He would be coming by car, but even so, he might not be here for another five or ten minutes. I made a decision and headed for the metal ladder which stood in the Tranter’s front garden and led up to the first platform. I climbed it quickly, checking that no one saw me from the front window of the house, but the place looked empty. I moved up another ladder to the second floor, and could hear footsteps on the board above me now. The sound of a heavy bucket being dragged across the boards allowed me to hone in on the exact location of the person above me. They were the opposite side of the ladder from me which ran up to the next level.

I jumped as a loud siren rang out from the street below. The idiot had come with the bloody siren blaring! The bucket stopped above me as the car pulled in below and James jumped out and ran to the front door, banging on it loudly.

I looked back up to see a man descend the ladder carrying a hammer. He turned to me, his eyes wild.

“Bob Jones? That is your name isn’t it?”

“Who the hell are you?!” he said in a low voice, hefting the hammer in his hand.

“Just someone who knows exactly what you’ve done Mr Jones.”

He froze and his eyes darted down towards the street where James had now backed out until he could see them clearly.

“Felicity?! What the hell are you doing?!”

I shouted down without taking my eyes from the man in front of me.

“This man killed Mrs Tranter and Joan Sithers.”

“You lying little…”

He lunged at me, hammer raised above his head as my ears filled with a shout of warning from James below. He needn’t have bothered. My vampness had reacted before I had even realised. My feet moved quickly to one side as my hands swung forward and grabbed the shaft of the hammer as it arced forwards. Everything seemed to be in slow motion as I pushed to my left along with the momentum of the attack and forcing Bob Jones to topple forwards onto the boards. He rolled until his head hit an upright pole and he came to a sudden stop and lay motionless in a heap.

“Are you alright?!” A breathless James Marsh appeared from the gap in the boards where the ladder from below emerged.

“Fine, he missed.”

He stopped halfway through the opening and looked from me to the crumpled form of Bob Jones.

“Missed, did he?”

He looked at me oddly for a moment, before venturing up and moving over to attend to the unconscious builder.

18

Crowd Pleasing

I opened the door of the Whole Latte Love Café and stopped in my tracks as I was greeted by a round of applause. Sandra and Betty stood behind the counter leading the reception with beaming smiles and hearty claps. The Barter twins cackled and clapped from their usual table as I made my way over to the counter, embarrassed at the response to my arrival.

“Don’t you come over here!” Sandra said, waving me away. “Grab a table. I’m bringing the port and the cakes and you’re going to tell us all exactly what happened.”

I smiled and moved off to a table at the side of the room. All of this was a bit embarrassing, but the story of the murder and subsequent capture of the perpetrator had been all over the local news, and I was apparently something of a hero.

Betty and Sandra arrived with a tray loaded with muffins, coffee and port, and immediately launched into the inquisition.

“Come on then, how did you know it was him?!” Betty asked, grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of a juicy story like this. I sipped at my port, making them wait for a moment.

“Well it was actually Reg Shaw who put me on to the whole thing.”

I noticed the confused expression of Sandra and explained that he was one of the new lodgers up at the house.

“He showed me this carving he had done of a vine that grows round a tree and suffocates it. Something bothered me about it, but I didn’t realise until the next day and you mentioned something about debt Sandra.”

“Debt? What’s that got to do with it?”

“Look, remember at the beginning the police thought that it had to be either Betty or Joan Sithers, because they were the only ones who had touched Mrs Tranter’s coffee cup?”

“How could I forget,” Betty said with a shiver.

“Well then I got you out of trouble because the Barter twins told me that Mrs Tranter used a hip flask to give her morning coffee a bit of a kick. That meant that it didn’t have to have been someone in the café, it could have been anyone who could have got to that hip flask.”

“Right, but it would have had to have been someone who could have got close enough to poison the flask though,” Sandra said.

“It was, but forget that for now,” I said taking a huge bite of my muffin. “Think about the letters.”

“The ones that were in my car?”

“Yes, Joan Sithers put them there.”

“What?! But why would she do that? She didn’t kill Mrs Tranter!” Betty slapped her drink down too hard on the table, spilling it across the surface which Sandra mopped up with a serviette absentmindedly.

I swallowed the muffin chunk and washed it down with a gulp of latte before answering.

“She did it for love.”

“What the hell are you on about?” Sandra said, her face rapt with interest.

“Joan Sithers was having an affair with Mr Tranter!”

“No!” both of them shouted at once.

I noticed that people on the tables near us weren’t talking anymore, I was pretty sure everyone was listening. The Barter twins had even given up their precious corner table in order to move to one closer, and were now making a concerted effort not to look in the direction of our table.

“Yes, and naturally, when Mrs Tranter died after adding the booze from her hip flask, she thought it must have been her lover.”

“Oh god, can you not say ‘lover’ about him? I’ve only just had my breakfast,” Betty laughed, making me laugh too.

“Anyway, she realised when she bent down to the body. She grabbed the hip flask and slipped it into her pocket which is why the police didn’t find it. She took it home and called…” I looked at Betty and raised my eyebrows as I spoke, “her lover… and told him that they shouldn’t see each other for a while and that everything would be ok. I don’t think he knew what she was talking about, but when the police then called round to say that his wife had been poisoned, he naturally thought that Joan must have killed her! That’s why he then came back into the café the next day. He had realised that the police hadn’t found the hip flask and so went to get it back before someone else found it, but Joan had already taken it.”

A moment passed as I scanned the other tables. Everyone had given up pretending they weren’t listening now. They all faced me, staring. I noticed that the Barter twins were so entranced, their coffee was still sat untasted in front of them.

“Joan Sithers knew what the letters looked like, because she’d written them.”

“She’d written them?!” Sandra shouted, shocked. “She sat here with her, nice as pie every morning and then went home and wrote those letters, all while she was having an affair with her husband?!”

“Yep.” I smiled, unable to help myself. I could see that Sandra was shocked, but it was Betty’s expression that had made me want to laugh.

“Oh come on Sandra, you know what she was like. I’m surprised the whole town wasn’t sending her nasty letters”

“Anyway,” I continued, after catching the look Sandra gave Betty, “she made some more and posted them through the window of your car Betty, to put more evidence against you and away from who she thought was the real killer… Mr Tranter.”

“So why did Bob Jones kill Joan Sithers?” Betty asked.

“So that she would get blamed for the murder.”

I took another long draught of coffee before continuing.

“Remember the carving Reg Shaw had of the vines around the tree? The vines wrapped so tightly around it that eventually they suffocated it and the tree died. For some reason I couldn’t get the image out of my head and then I realised where I’d seen something that had made me think of that before. It was when I had passed the Tranter’s house after the murder. It was covered in scaffolding from top to bottom, so you could hardly see the house underneath. It’s summer and so the windows of the house were open a lot, I think Bob Jones heard everything that went on in that house. I think he knew Joan and Arthur Tranter were having an affair and he saw it as a way to implicate her and cover his tracks. It was a bonus for him when he realised that Joan had been the one writing the letters as well.”

“Blimey,” said Betty sighing. The rest of the room was full of similar reactions. The odd exhaling of breath, a few heads shaking.

“Hold on,” Sandra said, breaking the silence. “It said on the news that Joan Sithers had been killed with the same poison that Edith Tranter had been. How did he get Joan to take it from him? In her own home?”

The door of the café opened and the tiny bell above it rang, making everyone who was now craning to hear around our table jump with shock. I looked up to see DCI James Marsh framed in the doorway, his long grey coat billowing slightly from the breeze outside.

19

Making Dates

He stepped in looking like a deer that had just worked out what the two lights moving towards it at speed were.

“Erm… Hi, I just thought I’d get some coffee… erm.”

“I’ll get it,” I said, standing up to rescue him from the frozen audience in front of him. I led him through the tables to the counter. “Sorry about this, it’s just that everyone wants to know what happened.”

“Oh, I see. So you’re giving them the inside scoop are you?” I looked up from the coffee machine to see him smiling.

“Is that a problem?” I asked, realising my voice sounded more petulant than I wanted it to, embarrassed that he had caught me gossiping about the case like this.

“Not at all, the case is all over now. Have you told them the bit about how you single handedly took down a killer wielding a hammer?”

“Not yet, no.”

I slid his coffee to him.

“Oh good, because I’d quite like to hear that bit again myself.”

He turned and walked over to an empty table towards the edge of the throng around Betty, Sandra’s and mine. I grinned and moved back to my seat at centre stage.

“We were in here talking and Sandra, you mentioned something about debt. I suddenly put some things together I’d seen over the last few days. Bob Jones had had a black eye when I first met him at the Tranter’s. At the time I thought he might have got it on the job and thought nothing of it. Then, I saw him on the high street where he told me he’d just sold a load of his granddad’s old World War Two stuff. As we were talking, he suddenly looked panicked and dived into the bookies. Straight afterwards I saw two huge men coming down the street, but again, didn’t put two and two together. I saw those men again doing some dodgy exchange with someone in another car later on, but couldn’t see who it was. I know now that it was Bob Jones driving his mum’s car. He’d had to sell his place and move back in with her to pay off gambling debts. He’d had to go to some shady people when the bookies on the high street had stopped taking his bets, but it wasn’t enough. He thought he had a way out though. He’d landed a big job renovating the outside of the Tranter’s place, which would be enough to get him out of trouble. But then he ran into Edith Tranter. According to her husband, she had nitpicked at every little thing that wasn’t right with the work Jones had done, refusing to pay him until he fixed it all. So he’d gone round the whole place again and changed everything. Then she’d come up with another list of things he wasn’t happy with. I don’t know how long it went on for, but Bob Jones had obviously had enough.”

“So where did he get the poison from?” Sandra asked.

“Remember I said I’d seen him coming out of the antique shop and he’d sold some of his granddad’s things from the war?”

A dozen or so heads nodded around me.

“Well his granddad was in the Special Forces and his job was to look after the equipment. It turns out he had four cyanide pills stashed in a box that you were meant to take if you were ever captured by the enemy.”

Betty exhaled in a low whistle.

“Bloody hell. And that’s what he used on them?”

“Yep. It had been bugging me how someone could get hold of cyanide these days, so I started looking online and it came up that Special Forces’ soldiers used to have cyanide pills, but I didn’t make the connection straight away. We think he crawled in through a window from the scaffolding and spiked her hip flask which he must have seen her filling on a daily basis. He knew that Mr Tranter would pay up once his wife was gone, so he needed her out of the way.”

There was a low muttering around the room as people began to whisper each other, the story apparently over, when it was suddenly interrupted by James Marsh.

“Come on Felicity, don’t miss out the most exciting bit of the whole story!” He flashed a mischievous grin at me. “Don’t you want to tell everyone how the killer attacked you with a hammer?”

A hush swept around the room as a dozen eyes slowly moved from the detective’s to mine. I felt my vampness kick in. I had avoided talking about when Bob Jones had lunged at me as much as possible, I didn’t want any awkward questions. Now DCI bloody Marsh was putting me in the spotlight in front of the whole café.

“He came at you with a hammer?!” Betty said, her eyes wide with a hint of annoyance that I guessed was because I hadn’t phoned her immediately with this information.

“Yes, he rushed me, but he wasn’t really concentrating and I jumped to the side and he fell forwards and hit his head. It was nothing really.” I gave Betty a pointed look and saw her face change as she understood I was telling her to leave it.

“Well, that was lucky.” She stood up quickly, somehow breaking the spell in the room. “Right, this is a café you know, can I get anyone anything?”

The room descended into a babble of noise as people moved their chairs back to their tables and began either ordering or chatting with others about what they had just heard. Sandra got up and moved back behind the counter, leaving me on my own for only a moment before James joined me.

“Sorry about that,” he grinned, “but I wanted everyone to know what a hero you were, even though it was a pretty stupid thing to go chasing a killer.”

I felt my face flush, partly with the embarrassment of him calling me a hero, and partly with annoyance at the stupid comment. Why did everything seem to be like this with him? I never knew whether I wanted to hit him or kiss him.

“Someone’s got to do the police’s job for them,” I said, my tone sounding harsher than I had meant it to. I saw him almost visibly wince at the jibe, before he suddenly leaned forward and took my hand.

“Felicity, I’m sorry I didn’t catch the guy before you were put in danger. I don’t know what I would have done if anything had happened to you.”

I knew he was talking about professional guilt rather than not being able to live without me, but it was nice to hear all the same. I smiled.

“Let me make it up to you. Dinner tonight?”

“OK,” I said, before my brain could even decide if this was a good idea.

“Great, I’ll give you a call later.” He gave my hand a squeeze, stood up and left the café.

20

A Great Offer

“Felicity!”

I looked up towards where the shout had come from and I saw Sandra waving me over to the counter. I stood up and made my way over.

“Need a hand?” I said, still deep in thought about tonight’s dinner offer.

“No, I need you to come back here,” she said, vanishing through the swing doors and into the kitchen.

“Is everything alright?” I said to Betty as I lifted the section of counter which raised on its hinges and passed through. She laughed at me and shook her head.

“Maybe if you didn’t run out in the middle of conversations you’d know!”

She turned back to the customer she was serving, taking their money for the coffees they had bought.

A sudden realisation rushed through me and I burst through the doors and into the kitchen.

“Oh god, Sandra, I’m so sorry for running out on you like that! You were telling us about your retirement and I just left you!”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that, just sit down.”

She smiled and I noticed that once again there were two glasses of port laid out on the small round table set out for staff in the kitchen.

“I was telling you that I’m retiring, but you ran out before I got to the bit where I could ask you something.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. Well, Betty as well, but she’s already said yes, as long as you do.”

“Ok…”

I wasn’t sure what she was about to say, but it suddenly felt as though there was a lot of pressure on how I would respond.

“I’m going to keep the café on, and I’d like you and Betty to run it for me.”

“Wow, are you sure?”

“I’ve never been surer of anything.”

I was stunned. I had always thought that one day Betty would take over the café, it just seemed to be the natural progression, but I hadn’t expected it to be so soon, and I certainly hadn’t expected me to be involved at all. The café had always been a temporary thing for me. Something I was doing while I worked out what I really wanted to do. My mind flashed to the sweet shop and how the bank had reacted to me wanting to take it over. Sandra was offering me a great chance, and I had to take it.

“That’s so kind of you Sandra.”

I stood up and moved round to give her a hug, but she held a hand up waving me off.

“Hold on, I haven’t finished.”

I returned to my seat, baffled.

“Before I came into this bit of money, I had decided to expand the business, and I still plan to.”

“Right…”

“I’m sure you’ll have noticed as you’re their best customer, but the Reed’s place has gone up for sale.”

I froze and a tingle ran down the back of my spine.

“Well you know I’ve always had a lot of recipes for this stuff, you’ve helped me with a lot of them, and I thought the sweet shop would make a good addition to the café.”

I still didn’t say anything, I could barely breathe.

“Anyway, I’ve put in an offer and they’ve accepted it, but they are very protective over the shop and what really swung it was when I told them I was going to ask you to run it.”

“I jumped up from my chair and made a high pitched noise from my mouth that I didn’t even recognise as me. I dashed round the table and wrapped my arms around her and squeezed.

“Sandra, this is incredible!” I pulled away and looked at her as she laughed. “Are you sure? I mean, I don’t have much experience and…”

“Felicity, I have literally never seen anyone eat as many sweets as you do. To be honest, I don’t know why you’re not my size and all your teeth haven’t fallen out. But one thing I do know, is that you know sweets.”

I hugged her again as I felt tears fill my eyes.

A few moments later I had calmed down enough to sit and drink my port. Sandra poured me another one.

“So Betty will be based in the café, and you’ll be based over there, but I expect you both to help each other out where you can. This is one business, not two. You’ll both start here early in the morning and get baking, then you can go over and open the sweet shop and we’ll hire someone else to help Betty out here. Does that all sound ok?”

“It sounds perfect,” I said, unable to wipe the beaming smile from my face, I dived forward and hugged her again.

21

Making Choices…

I lay on my bed staring up at the high ceiling with its strange patterns of centuries old damp and daydreamed.

Running my own sweet shop. Ok, it wasn’t technically mine, but maybe one day. For now I could just enjoy getting to know the business and have some fun experimenting with various recipes.

All those times when Sandra and I had tried various concoctions out in the kitchen of the Whole Latte Love on a slow day, now I could do it for real.

My phone buzzed on the mattress next to me and I flipped it over to see James Marsh’s face staring back at me. Fear burst into my chest as I sat bolt upright and stared at the ringing phone. He was ringing to arrange dinner tonight, so why was I suddenly panicking? Why didn’t I want to answer it?

I knew full well why. He’s a policeman and I’m a vampire. But why hadn’t I said no before? I closed my eyes and exhaled slowly. The shop. The chance of my dream job meant I couldn’t risk anything upsetting my life here in Stumpwell. If people started asking awkward questions around here, I’d have to leave, not just the town, but my dream.

I picked up the phone and clicked the green answer button.

“Hi, James.”

“Hi, Felicity, just wondered where you wanted to eat tonight? Apparently the Stump and Well have a special on where…”

“James, look I’m really sorry, but I think I’m going to have to take a raincheck on tonight.”

“Oh, right. Everything ok?”

“Yeah, fine. Maybe another time.”

“Right, no problem. Night then.”

“Night, James.”

I hung up and laid back on the bed. I felt bad for letting him down, and a little sad that I wasn’t actually going to go on a date with him. I had to be sensible though. It would never work between us and I had a new adventure to focus on.

I smiled to myself. It was going to be fun.

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Murder Bites

When her best friend is accused of murder, Vampire and reluctant waitress Felicity Twyst must rise to the occasion and find the real killer. ​ Death is no stranger to Felicity, after all, her mum died forty years ago and it hasn't slowed her down. She still didn't expect the feared Mrs Tranter to keel over in the middle of Whole Latte Love Cafe, let alone for her best friend Betty Haddock to be accused of the crime. ​ Using her instincts for detection (and trying to ignore those for sucking blood), Felicity attempts to clear her friend and find the real killer.

  • Author: Barnaby Yard
  • Published: 2017-02-01 10:50:17
  • Words: 29985
Murder Bites Murder Bites