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Murder by Christmas: a short story by Jane Risdon FREE to read.
I thought I’d post a short story I wrote last year. It’s just over 7,500 words long. If you read it let me know what you think. I really hope you’ll enjoy it.
Here we go:
MURDER BY CHRISTMAS
A Short Story
The reading of Tiffany Blunt’s Will was a subdued affair. Those who’d hoped to inherit didn’t, and those who had been invited to attend without knowing why, were suddenly beneficiaries. It was all a bit odd really.
‘I know it’s usual to invite only those named in the Will,’ said Mr. Lewis, Tiffany’s solicitor, ‘but this is an unusual situation. Ms Blunt’s Will hasn’t been what you’d call, standard. I alone know what bequests she has made to charities, and other organisations. As for other beneficiaries, I have been instructed to hand each of you a letter which contains her wishes. She asks that the contents of each of your letters is never revealed to each other, or anyone else.’ Mr Lewis handed out three letters only. ‘Even I don’t know what is in them.’
The three not in receipt of a letter looked confused. ‘Oh, Ms Blunt wanted you to be aware that she has excluded you from benefitting from her death because she felt that you had obtained enough from her during her lifetime.’ His tone was stern, as he looked at the two women and one man, over the top of his spectacles. ‘She wanted you to be in no doubt that should you attempt to take steps to contest her wishes, any gifts she gave you in the past will be forfeit and passed to various charities as per her instructions to me.’
He polished his glasses and added. ‘Ms Blunt died without having ever married and so her estate is quite considerable. Her fiancé, Malcolm Grant, died in a car accident on his stag night, just after his thirtieth birthday, having recently come into his late father’s fortune.’ He looked around the room. ‘The young man had only just made a Will it seems, naming Ms Blunt as sole beneficiary, and this not six months after her uncle had died leaving her all his fortune too.’ Those present exchanged looks wondering just how much she’d left.
The Solicitor continued, ‘I’m sure you know Ms Blunt was a frugal woman in many ways, not one to socialise much or spend extravagantly.’ He enjoyed seeing the look of greed on their faces. ‘Therefore there is vast wealth at stake.’ Actually, Tiffany Blunt outlived her fiancé by some twenty years, thus her bank account and shares in various successful corporations, both home and overseas, was not just vast, it as enormous. Tiffany had been worth millions.
‘I haven’t had anything from her I didn’t earn,’ Tiffany’s former house-keeper, Betty Green, muttered, ‘but after almost twenty years faithful service, you’d think she’d have left me something; are you sure there’s nothing?’ She asked staring at the letters the beneficiaries held excitedly. ‘She used to say I would be able to have what I deserved in retirement, so I’m sure she’d have left me something.’
‘She was explicit, Mrs Green. I cannot help you any further, good-day.’ Mr Lewis opened his office door for her and she reluctantly left, her face full of fury. She was glad she’d managed to take so many valuable things from her employer during her employment, not that they compensated for what she’d been led to expect. Well, Betty knew things about her former employer which she’d hinted she’d reveal if she was ever sacked, perhaps someone else would pay to keep them secret, she thought.
‘I never asked for a penny and she was always generous to me, but she’d hinted more than once that I could expect….’ David Sherman, her gardener of five years, trailed off when the solicitor shook his head.
‘Like I told Mrs Green, Ms Blunt’s instructions are clear and non-negotiable. Sorry,’ and he pointed to the door. David Sherman’s face was a picture of curiosity as he stared at the remaining people. He shrugged and left the room wondering what they would think if they knew about Tiffany and him.
‘I know, I’m not entitled,’ sighed Maddie Jones, Tiffany’s secretary for ten years. ‘But she promised me every time I asked for a raise. She said I’d get my reward when she died. Are you really sure she hasn’t left me anything?’
Mr Lewis sighed loudly and opened the door for her. Maddie’s expression was pinched as she swept past the other three. ‘I could tell some tales,’ she said angrily, ‘and still might.’ Mr Lewis listened to her six-inch heels tapping along the parquet floored corridor outside his offices, thinking she was a bad sort if ever there was one. He turned to the beneficiaries.
The three were wondering if there was anything else, anxious to get somewhere private to open their letters. The man spoke first ‘I didn’t really know Ms Blunt that well Mr Lewis. I’m surprised she’d leave me anything, after-all, I was just her postman.’
‘I’m sure she thought highly of you Mr. Archer. I do hope you enjoy your bequest.’ Mr Lewis showed the bewildered postman to the door. ‘Remember, you must keep your bequest to yourself and never reveal it.’
Percy Archer nodded enthusiastically wondering how much she’d left him. He was a bachelor without any living relations and to those who were acquainted with him via his rounds, he appeared to live a lonely life. Apart from a pint at the local pub on Saturday nights which he drank alone and in silence, he never mixed or appeared to have any friends. That might be changing now he’d come into a small fortune. Percy always dreamed of owning a car and going on holidays, but he’d never been able to afford it. He whistled as he left the building; his step lighter.
Agatha Marshal fiddled with her envelope nervously. ‘I’m so grateful to her Mr Lewis. I’ve never had much money, but now I hope I’ll be able to visit my sister in Canada.’ Tiffany often gave to the local Old Age Charity on whose behalf Ms Marshal collected money and other donated items; the only times they’d ever met. ‘Oh, and of course I shall donate some to the Charity I work for,’ she added hastily.
‘Ms Marshal, I am sure Ms Blunt was well aware just what her bequest will mean to you, indeed, to all of you.’ He smiled thinly and pointed to the door. ‘Goodbye Ms Marshal.’
The solicitor turned to the last person holding an envelope. ‘Any questions Mr. Seymour?’
Tim Seymour hesitated a moment about to say something, but then changed his mind. ‘No, I’m fine, thanks,’ and the man who’d ‘done something’ for Tiffany twenty years ago left, wondering what had caused her to include him in her Will; they hadn’t been in touch since then, as agreed.
Mr Lewis read his own letter again. Tiffany had already made sure he was paid well for his services to her, which he’d carried out to the letter. However, he had one more service to discharge upon his deceased client’s behalf. On Christmas Eve one of the beneficiaries – he had no idea who – would contact him, and he was to hand over a letter to them. His last act upon his client’s behalf. A few weeks more and Ms Blunt and her bequests would be his responsibility no longer. He could retire at last. He’d buy a yacht and sail away into retirement.
Percy Archer sat in The Jolly Farmer and stared at his letter, his breath rapid and shallow. His mind in turmoil. How did she know? What was he going to do? He’d never live it down. She couldn’t really expect him to do it, could she? But what choice did he have?
Meanwhile Agatha Marshal was having a similar experience in her kitchen where she held a damp cloth to her head, blood thumping through her temples. Dear God! She thought, whatever am I going to do? She can’t be serious? How could I? But Agatha knew that the alternative was unthinkable; she had her reputation after-all.
Tim Seymour read the letter twice more and then sighed. He knew this day would come eventually. He’d spent twenty years wondering if it would ever surface again. He’d only himself to blame, but he had been young and in love; desperate to have her at any cost. At any cost? She’d double-crossed him in the end. He wondered if he’d be able to do it again.
Tiffany had been a watchful woman, with a keen nose for mischief and intrigue. She didn’t know what made her suspect the postman of hoarding the mail and not delivering every item entrusted to him by the Post Office. Little things just added up. He obviously wasn’t spending any money he’d purloined on an extravagant lifestyle, so she doubted if he blackmailed people with the contents of their letters. Tiffany couldn’t resist herself; she had investigated and spied on Percy whenever she had the opportunity. Percy Archer had another secret she soon discovered, one that wouldn’t be well received in a rural community where the Church still played an important role in daily life. Percy’s secret could ruin him. Tiffany relished the feeling of power this knowledge gave her. She bided her time, just knowing it would come in handy one day.
Percy had no idea anyone had rumbled his thefts. The Post Office was in such a shambles these days, it was easy to ‘miss-lay’ the odd delivery or sack. He couldn’t help himself. He’d read that stress can make you do all sorts of weird stuff, so he put it down to stress. His secret life was taking its toll on him he knew, and his ‘non-deliveries’ afforded some relief, though he couldn’t explain why.
Now it was all coming to a head and if he didn’t do as she asked he’d have to face the music and the humiliation of not just being labelled a thief, and possibly going to prison, but the whole village would find out that he was a cross dresser. He was on the Church Finance Committee for goodness sake. He couldn’t stand it, he’d do anything to keep his secret, but Ms Blunt asked too much. Percy rushed out of the pub and went home where he found solace in putting his late mother’s clothes and make-up on, before making himself a stiff drink.
Agatha paced back and forth, reading her letter over and over. If this got out she’d be ruined. Her plans to sit on the Parish Council would be finished and she’d have to resign from the Funding Committee for the new church roof. Then there was the charity; what if they pressed charges? She might end up in prison, ruined. How did Tiffany find out? What was she to do? Agatha was sure she hadn’t the stomach for what Tiffany asked – had she?
The disappointment felt by Percy and Agatha at not being able to obtain any financial reward from Tiffany unless they carried out their given tasks, without question, and without telling another living soul, was acute. Substantial amounts were at stake and within their grasp, but both would-be beneficiaries were in a quandary. Tiffany asked the unthinkable.
Tim sipped his scotch and thought about Tiffany and what he’d done for her all those years ago, and how she’d betrayed him and blackmailed him into silence. Now she wanted him to do it again. He wished there was a way, but deep down he knew there wasn’t, he had to carry out her wishes, there was too much at stake. Yet inheriting her money was not an incentive – his life and freedom was.
Tim thought about his task. It shouldn’t be too difficult to execute. He needed to watch events unfolding in the village before he could act anyway. All he had to do was plan and wait. He poured another scotch and considered the matter further.
After the initial shock Percy calmed down and began to think about his task. Actually, it might not be so terrible or difficult after-all. The woman was a pest, into everyone’s business as he’d discovered when he’d read a letter from a local solicitor threatening legal action if she continued to slander a local doctor. It was one of a few he’d opened when he first started to ‘care take’ the mail he failed to deliver. Percy recalled the extent of Betty’s blackmail throughout the village; he’d be doing a public service come to think of it, preventing her political career from progressing any further. He resolved to accept Ms Blunt’s task, and dressed in his beloved mother’s clothes once more, watching himself in her dressing room mirror as he considered ways and means.
Agatha was unable to sleep for worry. She tossed and turned, battling with the demons Ms Blunt had visited upon her. There was no way round it that she could see. She’d have to go public about her youthful mistake and subsequent light-fingered moment, the alternative was too awful; but then there was the money. It was enough to drive a woman to drink. Agatha had lived with the shame of her fall from grace for many years. She’d only ever done it once in her whole life and, being unmarried, she’d made her decision at a time when such things were barely legal. How did Tiffany find out? It was the only time she’d ever stolen anything in her life and desperation drove her to do it – stealing the money from work – to pay for the abortion. She’d spent her life trying to make amends ever since. Now this. Her reputation was everything to her. She’d do what she was asked.
Percy Archer was acquainted with Mrs Green but only on nodding terms, passing the time of day when he delivered mail for Ms Blunt, or for Mrs Green herself. He began to watch her closely, taking more of a keen interest in her than before. Now that her employer was dead she’d managed to obtain work in several households on a part-time basis, affording her more opportunities to steal, and to delve into her unsuspecting and trusting employers’ lives. Percy noticed she’d go into the nearby town once a week, on the train, and visit the antique shops, always with something to sell. Then she’d make her way to one of the local building societies where she’d make a deposit.
After a couple of weeks Percy’s plan was beginning to form. He could do as Ms Blunt asked, and he was certain he’d get away with it.
Agatha Marshal’s terror finally persuaded her. She’d no choice really, besides she didn’t like the jumped up little madam one bit. In fact she thought of her as a bit of a tart and was really surprised that Ms Blunt ever employed her in the first place. The more Agatha thought about it the more she convinced herself she’d be doing society a favour. Maddie Jones lived her immoral life on the same street as Agatha, a few doors down opposite the Post Office, and so it wasn’t hard to keep an eye on her and her movements. Maddie didn’t have one boyfriend, she had several, if you could call them that. Most were older men, business types from what Agatha deduced, most likely able to spend a fortune on the little money-grabber; payment in kind more like. Agatha assumed most were probably married and having a bit on the side. One in particular stood out, a man in his early fifties who drove a blue Mercedes convertible. Agatha soon discovered that Maddie was not just working for him as his ‘Personal Assistant.’ She’d laughed out loud when she’d found out what sort of assistance she offered him personally.
Agatha was amazed to see a lorry pull up outside Maddie’s terraced house one day and watched in fascination as what looked like a home gym was unloaded and taken into the house. She knew the girl was a member of the local Aerobics and Pilates group which met in the village hall weekly – Agatha had toyed with the idea of joining at one time, but the sight of all those young things with perfect physiques prancing around in next to nothing had put her off. She wondered why Maddie was having a gym installed at home, but it gave her an idea.
Tim kept an eye on Percy and Agatha. He was sure they’d been given tasks to perform in return for Tiffany’s money. He hardly knew them except by sight and keeping a low profile so they wouldn’t spot his interest in them wasn’t that difficult. The other person of interest, as per his instructions, was David Sherman. Tim soon discovered that he was a part-time gardener for several of the larger houses just outside the village. David also had an allotment of his own on the edge of the village where he spent most of his spare time, when he wasn’t tending to a few of his female client’s and their ‘bedding problems.’ The allotment afforded no end of possibilities.
Betty Green counted the money she’d earned from the sale of a silver Georgian teapot and stand which she’d ‘acquired,’ from Mrs. Cuthbert, widow of the Major who once rode to hounds, and who’d died falling off of his horse when hunt protestors had startled his mount as they crossed a stream in the local farmer’s field. Mrs Cuthbert was losing the plot and half the time didn’t know what day of the week it was. At one time Betty was able to obtain regular ‘financial contributions’ from the woman whose secrets Betty had discovered whilst working for her some years before she lost the plot. Later, as Mrs Cuthbert’s dementia progressed, she’d mistaken Betty for her long-lost sister many a time, which suited Betty just fine.
‘Martha, dear, I’ve found you the most wonderful birthday gift, I haven’t had time to wrap it, I do hope you like it,’ she’d said to Betty recently, handing her yet another valuable possession.
‘Oh, thank you dear sister,’ Betty said, going along with the confused woman; never one to look a gift horse in the mouth. The silverware was worth a considerable sum and Betty was anxious to get to the building society before closing time.
Standing on the platform waiting for the train back to the village Betty was deep in thought about her bank account and the growing sums in it. Being Saturday the station platform was crowded with football fans on their way to see their local team play away. Spirits were high as they sang and chanted, waving their scarves and tins of lager. Betty hardly noticed them milling around her as she planned how she’d get her hands on a lovely little silver snuff-box she’d seen on the dressing table of one of her ‘clients’.
The through train to London was due in first. Betty didn’t know what hit her as she fell off the platform and into its path, a gentle shove in the small of her back was all it took.
Percy disappeared into the crowds as they rushed to the edge of the platform and what was left of Betty after the high-speed train had disappeared into the distance, its driver possibly unaware of the accident but, in any case, even if he had been it would’ve taken some time to stop, and by that time Percy would be on his bike half-way home. He shook from head to foot as he pedaled, hardly able to believe what he’d just done.
‘I’ll have a double on the rocks please’. His first port of call was the pub where he planned on calming his nerves for the rest of the afternoon.
Tim saw Percy leaving the station just as an announcement came over the PA system.
‘Due to an incident on the line, all trains have been cancelled until further notice’.
He’d seen them both enter the station shortly before. Betty seemed unaware of Percy as she waited at the ticket office. Tim watched from just outside the entrance wondering why Percy hid behind the newspaper stand, lingering there until the train was imminent, when he disappeared towards the platform. Cries of horror and shock alerted Tim that something had happened, not to mention the sight of a guilty looking Percy hurrying away in the opposite direction to everyone else. Tim didn’t need sixth sense to work out what.
He left the station quickly before the police and ambulance arrived wondering why Tiffany wanted Betty Green bumped off. How clever, he thought, Tiffany had somehow managed to force Percy into doing her bidding. But why? He was going to have to keep a closer eye on the others.
Days passed with Percy beside himself with worry, waiting for the knock on the door. But it didn’t come. He watched all the News bulletins waiting for some clue as to what the police were doing. So far it seemed that Betty’s death was being treated as an accident; she’d been standing too close to the edge of the platform and with some many people jostling around, it was possible someone knocked into her accidentally. Nothing had shown up on the CCTV footage to make them think otherwise. Percy had got away with it. He didn’t feel at all happy about it and reading his letter again, with instructions as to how he’d obtain Tiffany’s bequest of £500,000, didn’t ease his conscience. He was dressing in Mother’s clothes more frequently and had given notice at work, relief building as he prepared to leave his old life behind.
A week later Percy boarded a British Airways flight for his paid round the world trip, his ticket and spending money having arrived as per his letter, along with details of a bank account in his name in Mauritius, his first destination. He doubted he’d ever return to England and from now on he’d wear whatever he liked.
Agatha knocked on Maddie’s door careful to ensure no-one was about. Luckily the street lamp opposite was out-of-order so she was well hidden in the depths of the outside porch. Maddie’s hall light went on and her shadow advanced towards the partially glazed front door,
‘Yes, hello, who is it?’
Agatha almost whispered through the door, ‘it’s Agatha Marshal, you remember, from the reading of Ms Blunt’s Will.’
‘Oh, hello Miss Marshal, excuse my get-up, I’ve been trying out my new home gym.’ Maddie opened the door only a fraction but Agatha quickly registered what she was wearing. Agatha was reminded of TV Breakfast News of years gone by – The Green Goddess – came to mind.
‘Oh how exciting, I am sorry to interrupt you my dear, and I won’t keep you long.’ Her smile full of concern, ‘can’t have you catching your death after your work-out can we?’ She smiled again. ‘Perhaps I’d better come in for a moment; it’s really cold out here.’
Maddie hesitated briefly and then took the door off the chain and ushered Agatha inside.
‘What can I do for you Ms Marshal?’ Maddie wiped herself down with a towel and kept running on the spot slowly so as not to stiffen up after her work-out.
‘I wonder if it might be best if you continue with your exercise whilst we chat.’ Agatha wanted Maddie to show her the gym which she’d seen her using in the front upstairs bedroom. ‘Saves you getting chilled, besides, I’ve always been fascinated by gym equipment.’ She moved towards the stairs. ‘I’d love to see it. I had one of those vibrating belts once, you know, the ones which were supposed to jiggle your fat away’. Agatha laughed, ‘as you can see, Maddie, it didn’t work for me.’
‘Oh, yes, by all means, do come up,’ and Maddie led the way upstairs. ‘I’ve almost finished. I’ve got one of those programmes on my tablet which I follow and I don’t want to get behind in points.’
Agatha followed her into quite a large room with all manner of gym equipment installed, complete with mirrored walls. Personal assistance must pay well, Agatha thought as she looked around. She’d read somewhere that floors had to be re-informed to take the weight of gm equipment.
‘Do take a seat Ms Marshal,’ Maddie pointed to a work-out bench. ‘Won’t be a minute and then we can chat.’ Maddie straddled a long bench with weights, making some adjustments. For a few moments Maddie lifted weights, panting as she worked. Agatha watched, feeling detached, and not a bit nervous, which really surprised her. This was going better than she could’ve imagined. She kept her coat and gloves on even though the room felt a little stuffy. Maddie didn’t seem to mind the airless room.
‘I thought you had to have someone standing behind you, in case of an accident.’ Agatha walked over to Maddie who was covered in perspiration.
‘I know, but I’m fine Ms Marshal, I’ve not increased the weights for some time, so I am not pushing myself, though I could of course.’
Agatha stood behind Maddie, smiling down at her. ‘You are so strong I’m really impressed. When do you think you’ll manage to increase the weights?’ Agatha inspected the contraption carefully. ‘I suppose you can’t really manage anything heavier, you’re such a slight little thing.’ Tempted Agatha, a devious glint in her eyes. Maddie was a vain young woman and Agatha waited for her to take the bait.
Maddie paused and then stood up, removing the weight. She picked up the next heaviest weight and placed it on the contraption, ready. ‘Ms Marshal, do you mind remaining where you are as I lift this? It’s heavier and I’ve only tried it once before, but I can do it.’
Agatha smiled. ‘Of course, my dear, don’t worry. I’ll be right behind you.’
Maddie raised the weight, closing her eyes in concentration. Just as she extended her arms fully, Agatha leaned over the girl, and tickled her under her arms. It had the desired effect. Maddie dropped the weight in shock and it landed on her throat.
Agatha felt for a pulse but there wasn’t one and with a quick glance around the room she made her way back downstairs, satisfied she’d touched nothing whilst in the house. She manipulated the front door latch with one of Maddie’s scarves which was hanging on a coat peg nearby, putting it back before closing the door. She stood for a few moments looking about her in the gloom. The street was deserted and the houses opposite had already drawn their curtains against the cold winter evening.
Satisfied with herself, yet amazed at her ability to do something so unimaginably wicked, Agatha made her way home, making plans for her windfall. Soon she’d be on a world cruise, all expenses paid, stopping off in the Cayman Islands where a bank account bore her name. She’d never return to England. A world where she could be herself, free from shame, awaited her.
Tim watched Agatha Marshal as she left Maddie’s house, intrigued as to what she’d been up to. The woman behaved furtively and Tim was certain that Agatha had carried out Tiffany’s instructions, which he was now convinced involved murdering those at the reading of her will. He felt a brief twinge of conscience as he wondered if he should’ve warned the young woman, but until he’d watched Agatha’s exit he’d not been sure of his suspicions. In any case he had his own instructions to follow and upsetting Tiffany’s plans might cause him problems in the end. It would soon be time for him to act.
Maddie’s death was investigated and just like Betty’s, the same conclusion was reached; accidental death. The local Press ran a series of articles warning of the dangers of keeping fit and exercising alone and standing too close to the edge on railway platforms. No link between the two women was made.
Both Agatha and Percy’s properties were put up for sale, all enquiries to go through Mr Lewis, solicitor. Local gossip concluded they’d run off together after conducting a secret affair for decades.
Tim kept a watchful eye out in-case Tiffany had someone tasked with his demise. So far nothing gave him cause for suspicion as he set about his own tasks with a heavy heart. He just wanted it all to be over.
David Sherman’s gardening skills had provided him with an impressive customer base the majority of whom, as Tim observed over a number of weeks, were women of a certain age with considerable disposable income. Tiffany appeared to have been a regular too. A search of her home afforded him the reason for David’s success with his ‘ladies.’ Not only was David a superb gardener, but he provided ‘extras’ for his clients; at a price. Tim picked up on local gossip and had soon cottoned on to the sexual extras the handsome young man provided for these bored, lonely and often wealthy women, but it was his other ‘extra’ which now interested Tim as he observed his target’s daily life. David also supplied Cocaine to some of his clients. Which got Tim’s imagination working over-time.
The young gardener was very lax when it came to keeping his poisons and pesticides under lock and key. Most times his greenhouses and shed, on his allotment behind his former farm cottage on the edge of the village, were unlocked without any visible means of alarm or precautions to prevent theft. Wednesday afternoons David regularly worked in the largest garden on the far side of the village belonging to a wealthy widow who normally occupied his talents, not just in her numerous flower beds, but her comfy Queen-sized bed too. Tim observed that David could be relied upon to be away from his cottage for several hours. Plenty of time for him to have a thorough examination of his premises to enabling him to put his plan into action.
Tim soon observed that David liked his drink; his kitchen cabinets held several bottles of various spirits. A half full bottle of vodka beside a plain glass bottle of what Tim assumed was tonic water or lemonade – also about half full – were on the kitchen dresser besides a large glass tumbler. Wearing gloves Tim sniffed the contents of each, and tipping a little liquid on to a spoon he found in the dresser drawer, took a sip; one bottle contained Vodka, the other lemonade, sweet tasting, possibly home-made. He washed the spoon and returned it to the drawer.
A search of the greenhouse afforded nothing much of use to Tim. Various insecticides gave him food for thought, but he soon dismissed them. He wanted David’s death to be sudden and plausible. Tim rummaged around carefully without leaving any trace of his search. He stepped on a loose floorboard inside the shed, which, when pulled up, revealed the gardener’s stash of drugs he sold to his customers and which Tim had observed him using more than once, when he’d spied on him through his sitting room windows, late evenings. Tim thought about doctoring the drugs but decided against it. Several empty glass bottles, similar to the one containing lemonade, lined the shelves inside the shed next to some other similar bottles containing a clear liquid. When unscrewed he noticed one didn’t have much of a smell, the other smelled of turpentine. He replaced the tops. Bending down Tim opened a similar bottle, sniffed, replaced the top and removed the bottle of clear liquid from underneath the workbench.
A week later David set off for his regular Wednesday appointment with his customer, observed by Tim. When he was sure the gardener wouldn’t return for some time, Tim made a quick visit to the Gigolo’s home. He’d switched his mobile off and removed the sim card and battery before leaving his own home; he didn’t want anyone triangulating his location if anything went wrong.
David had a new bottle of lemonade on the dresser much to Tim’s relief when he went into the kitchen. He tipped some lemonade on the flower bed at the back of the cottage, making sure he hadn’t left any foot prints in the garden or in the kitchen when he returned to add a quantity of Methanol to the lemonade from the bottle he’d taken during his last visit, using a small funnel to transfer the colourless liquid. He placed the funnel in a zip-lock bag which he’d dispose of later on his walk home.
Returning to the shed Tim placed the bottle of methanol on the shelf next to the lemonade, and he placed the turpentine next to that. He checked he’d left no tell-tale dust rings where he’d removed the bottles and, after a quick look round to ensure he’d left nothing to show his presence there, he walked the half mile back down the lane, across the fields towards The Jolly Farmer where he’d ordered lunch, checking his surroundings as he went. He didn’t spy a soul. He disposed of the funnel, which he’d kept for years in the back of his pristine classic Triumph Stag, wrapped unopened, in cellophane – just in case he needed to add oil to the engine – and the plastic bag, separately, along the way. The funnel ended up in the river running alongside the field, and the plastic bag under a hedge along with various pieces of litter which had accumulated over many years, blown there by the wind.
Tim replaced everything he’d removed from his mobile, switching it back on once inside the pub.
After lunch Tim settled by the open fire in the snug to read the latest David Baldacci novel he had with him. Later he had a few drinks, making small talk with whoever he could find in the saloon bar, before heading back to the flat he’d recently rented, to watch his new boxed set of Game of Thrones. At 9pm Tim telephoned his landlord from his mobile to complain his hot water boiler was not working properly; the GPS setting his location and time. There was nothing to ever link him to David in the event his death might be considered suspicious. Methanol could take between 12-24 hours to work, and Tim planned to make his locations known to as many people as he could. After-all, David could be anywhere when he fell into a coma and death struck.
The local Press ran a front page article about the dangers of putting lethal house-hold products in unlabeled bottles similar to those holding soft drinks and water, following the tragic accidental death of a young man who’d muddled his lemonade bottle with one containing methanol, stored carelessly in his garden shed. Tim read the news online, listened to the local radio and television news but, apart from reporting the tragic loss of a highly popular young gardener briefly, David was soon forgotten when the media moved on to the imminent arrival of 50 unaccompanied male Syrian teenagers from Calais.
On Christmas Eve Tim arrived late evening at Mr Lewis’ offices as instructed. His flat vacated, his few personal chores dealt with, he was ready to disappear into the vastness of Indonesia once more, free of Tiffany. A tree with decorations stood in one corner of reception, lights blinking on and off, festive cards and bunting dangled from the ceiling. Christmas, thought Tim, flipping joke.
Lewis was alone in his office. His staff having left at lunchtime he’d used his time alone gathering all his remaining paperwork, files, and company computer technology together. Loading his car until everything containing any record of his recent activities on behalf of Ms Blunt had been removed from the office, he’d been systematically erasing himself from her business at the firm for the last few weeks, as per her instructions. There was nothing left now. No trace of his services on Tiffany’s behalf. At last he could retire. He’d always wanted to visit Kathmandu and immerse himself in the beauty and culture of the mountains.
‘Ah! I’ve been expecting you, please sit down.’ Mr Lewis stood behind his desk, somehow unsurprised Seymour would be the one beneficiary remaining. ‘Anyone see you come in?’
‘Thanks.’ Tim shook his head, sitting down cautiously. ‘No-one about. Too cold out there.’ He said as he noticed the Solicitor eyeing his gloves, not without some suspicion in his eyes.
Mr Lewis sat down regarding Tim over the top of his spectacles, wary. ‘Can I offer you a festive drink? There’s only a little Scotch and Vodka with mixers. The girls saw most of it off this morning before breaking up for the holidays.’
‘No, no worries.’ Tim was relieved. He didn’t trust Lewis one bit. He’d observed the solicitor for the past few weeks, watching him removing items from his offices and his home late at night. Did Lewis have a task to perform? The man’s home was up for sale.
‘Coffee, tea?’ His mind raced, he wanted to get away. ‘Something to warm you up?’
Tim shook his head. No way, he thought.
‘You’ve completed the tasks according to your instructions?’
Tim nodded, aware that he might be recorded. He glanced round wondering if there was any CCTV or hidden camera he should deal with; any voice recording devices.
‘If it is all the same with you, I’d like to discuss anything further outside.’ Tim stood and moved towards the door.
‘Why? It’s freezing out there.’ Lewis realised the streets were deserted, too cold for even foxes to venture out seeking food. He followed Tim into reception, anxiety seeping through every pore. He didn’t want to be alone with the man without witnesses. ‘I don’t understand, what’s wrong with my office?’
‘Is there another office on this floor we can use?’ Tim left reception and Lewis followed.
‘Well, not open. On the top floor there’s a conference room, I haven’t locked up yet so it should be open.’ Lewis suggested, heart pounding with fear. It’s not how it’s supposed to go, he thought. ‘Can’t we stay in the hall?’
‘I would prefer the conference room. Is there any heating up there? I’m frozen’ Tim waited as a worried looking Lewis guided him towards the lift. ‘No lifts, can’t stand them.’
Lewis walked to the end of the corridor and led the way up several flights of stairs to the conference room. He held the door open for Tim.
Mr Lewis handed Tim a sealed envelope written in Tiffany’s own hand, addressed to ‘The Last Beneficiary.’ ‘I have no idea of the contents, as you can see she has placed a wax seal on it similar to the letters the other beneficiaries received.’
Tim looked at it and decided he’d open it later. ‘Thanks.’ He put it in his jacket pocket.
‘Well, that is all I think so I’ll bid you goodnight and Happy Christmas.’ Lewis said anxious to leave the top floor and be on his way to his new yacht moored in a little bay on the coast of Cornwall. He planned a short holiday sailing around the Med before flying to India and then on to Nepal and obscurity.
‘Did you know Tiffany well?’ Tim asked watching Lewis creep towards the door.
‘My father was Chief Constable in this area when she was young, their families were close. One of his cousins was her solicitor and took me into practice with him. When he died I inherited the company and Tiffany. I didn’t know her that well however.’ Lewis stopped. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Do you have any idea what’s been happening Mr Lewis, what her requests were?’ Tim watched the nervous solicitor carefully. ‘You ensured all the money was paid out and that those receiving it could leave their present lives behind and disappear. Did you ever ask her why?’
‘Ms Blunt dealt with the details herself, I didn’t see the contents of the letters and all I had to do was distribute them after reading her Will. Which I’ve done. I know nothing of what the beneficiaries did to deserve their good fortune. I don’t want to know. I don’t know what you or anyone else had to do for her. She once told me she’d deep affection for you – when I was adding you to her Will – and that you’d done her a great service which she was rewarding.’
Tim laughed heartily. ‘Rewarding.’
‘’Yes, well, if that is all I’ll be off now.’ Lewis almost ran from the room. Tim didn’t follow, he was too weary. Poor Lewis. He was about to get this reward too.
Tim read the reports of the explosion aboard My Dream with a mixture of sadness and relief. A tragic accident according to the Press. There was a fuel leak and Mr Lewis must’ve lit his cigar and up it all went. The final part of the plan had fallen into place. He could relax for the first time in years.
It was Boxing Day and Tim was sitting in the VIP lounge at Heathrow waiting for his flight to be called. Christmas songs played endlessly on a loop as he waited. After he’d read his bequest in Tiffany’s first letter at the Will reading, he’d destroyed it as instructed. He too wanted a new life and grasped at the straw she offered him.
She’d expressed sorrow she’d blackmailed him into keeping silent about the murder of her fiancé all these years – Tim snorted, yeah right – but she had no choice. Tim recalled being so in love he’d agreed to take the blame, if any should be attributed, for her fiancé’s death. So mitten was he. He even helped cover up the murder of her uncle which initially he’d thought was an accident until she inherited everything he had. By then it was too late. She’d manufactured and hidden evidence which implicated Tim in both murders, holding it over him all these years, buying his silence. He had been glad to get away from her, to forget it all. He knew she had someone tame high up in the Police who was ‘minding’ the evidence and if he went back on anything well, he wasn’t stupid. His word against hers plus the evidence. No, he was her patsy.
He’d opened the second letter Tiffany left for him soon after he left the solicitor’s office.
Tiffany regretted her deeds, she reiterated, and wanted to make it up to him but first she wanted to ensure he’d carry out a few more tasks to ensure his complete and utter silence forever. Why she cared what anyone would think after her death, he couldn’t imagine. But she did. True to the woman he’d come to know and hate, she wanted to ensure that some old scores were settled. Betty had robbed her, Maddie had tried to blackmail her, and David had cheated on her and sold drugs to anyone he could. She hated anything to do with drugs. She’d apparently felt sorry for Percy and Agatha and their sad lives, however, it didn’t stop her using them as her tools of revenge, as she’d used Tim once again.
When Tim arrived at Mr Lewis’ offices the solicitor had already disposed of all papers and other materials left with him, as instructed, including a large sealed box of items given to him by the Chief Constable many years ago He knew not what it or the documents contained, and didn’t want to. He was only to do so once he’d learned of the death of David Sherman.
Yet there was one last deed Tim had to carry out to secure his continued freedom. He never really hesitated, he knew he’d do it. He was a coward. Before Christmas day was over – Tiffany’s birthday – one way or another Mr Lewis, the last pawn in her evil plan, had to be disposed of. Only then Tim would be able to get on with his life. Tiffany had indeed kept her word and all evidence implicating him in any past murders had been destroyed. He had enough money to last a lifetime, no links or ties to the past. Percy was free, Agatha was free. Everyone was free. No more Tiffany. No more blackmail; just as long as they all committed murder by Christmas.
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