Love, Lies and Liquorby M. C. Beaton
Celebrating 20 Years of Agatha Raisin--Brand-New Bonus Story Included!
Agatha Raisin is lonely. Busy as she is with her detective agency and the meetings of the Carsely Ladies' Society, she still misses her ex-husband, James Lacey, so she welcomes his return to the cottage next door with her usual triumph of optimism over/b>/b>/b>
Celebrating 20 Years of Agatha Raisin--Brand-New Bonus Story Included!
Agatha Raisin is lonely. Busy as she is with her detective agency and the meetings of the Carsely Ladies' Society, she still misses her ex-husband, James Lacey, so she welcomes his return to the cottage next door with her usual triumph of optimism over experience---especially when he invites her on holiday at a surprise location that was once very dear to him. With visions of a romantic hideaway in Italy or the Pacific dancing in her head, Agatha goes off happily with James to...Snoth-on-Sea, in Sussex.
While James may have fond memories of boyhood holidays there, Snoth-on-Sea has seen better days, as has the once-grand Palace Hotel, now run-down and tacky and freezing cold. Nor do the other guests have much to recommend them, especially the brassy honeymoon couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jankers, who pick a fight with Agatha in the dining room. But trouble has a way of following Agatha even if romance does not: Just as she and James are preparing to flee to warmer climes, Geraldine Jankers is found dead on the beach---strangled with Agatha's scarf. So much for Agatha's holiday fantasies: Not only is it time to put her detective skills to work, but the police are not even sure that she'll be allowed to leave town.
Read an Excerpt
Love, Lies and Liquor
An Agatha Raisin Mystery
By M. C. Beaton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 M. C. Beaton
All rights reserved.
JAMES LACEY, Agatha Raisin's ex-husband with whom she was still in love, had come back into her life. He had moved into his old cottage next door to Agatha's.
But although he seemed interested in Agatha's work at her detective agency, not a glint of love lightened his blue eyes. Agatha dressed more carefully than she had done in ages and spent a fortune at the beautician's, but to no avail. This was the way, she thought sadly, that things had been before. She felt as if some cruel hand had wound the clock of time backwards.
Just when Agatha was about to give up, James called on her and said friends of his had moved into Ancombe and had invited them both to dinner. His host, he said, was a Mr. David Hewitt who was retired from the Ministry of Defence. His wife was called Jill.
Delighted to be invited as a couple, Agatha set out with James from their cottages in the village of Carsely in the English Cotswolds to drive the short distance to Ancombe.
The lilac blossom was out in its full glory. Wisteria and clematis trailed down the walls of honey-coloured cottages, and hawthorn, the fairy tree, sent out a heady sweet smell in the evening air.
Agatha experienced a qualm of nervousness as she drove them towards Ancombe. She had made a few visits to James in his cottage, but they were always brief. James was always occupied with something and seemed relieved when she left. Agatha planned to make the most of this outing. She was dressed in a biscuit-coloured suit with a lemon-coloured blouse and high-heeled sandals. Her brown hair gleamed and shone.
James was wearing a tweed sports jacket and flannels. "Am I overdressed?" asked Agatha.
One blue eye swivelled in her direction. "No, you look fine."
The Hewitts lived in a bungalow called Merrydown. As Agatha drove up the short gravelled drive, she could smell something cooking on charcoal. "It's not a barbecue?" she asked.
"I believe it is. Here we are."
"James, if you had told me it was a barbecue, I would have dressed more suitably."
"Don't nag," said James mildly, getting out of the car.
Agatha detested barbecues. Barbecues were for Americans, Australians and Polynesians, or any of those other people with a good climate. The English, from her experience, delighted in undercooked meat served off paper plates in an insect-ridden garden.
James rang the doorbell. The door was opened by a small woman with pinched little features and pale grey eyes. Her grey hair was dressed in girlish curls. She was wearing a print frock and low-heeled sandals.
"James, darling!" She stretched up and enfolded him in an embrace. "And who is this?"
"Don't you remember, I was told to bring my ex-wife along. This is Agatha Raisin. Agatha, Jill."
Jill linked her arm in James's, ignoring Agatha. "Come along. We're all in the garden." Agatha trailed after them. She wanted to go home.
Various people were standing around the garden drinking some sort of fruit cup. Agatha, who felt in need of a strong gin and tonic, wanted more than ever to flee.
She was introduced to her host, who was cooking dead things on the barbecue. He was wearing a joke apron with a picture of a woman's body in a corset and fishnet stockings. James was taken round and introduced to the other guests, while Agatha stood on a flagged patio teetering on her high heels.
Agatha sighed and sank down into a garden chair. She opened her handbag and took out her cigarettes and lighter and lit a cigarette.
"Do you mind awfully?" Her host stood in front of her, brandishing a knife.
"This is a smoke-free zone."
Agatha leaned round him and stared at the barbecue. Black smoke was beginning to pour out from something on the top. "Then you'd better get a fire extinguisher," said Agatha. "Your food is burning."
He let out a squawk of alarm and rushed back to the barbecue. Agatha blew a perfect smoke ring. She felt her nervousness evaporating. She did not care what James thought. Jill was a dreadful hostess, and worse than that, she seemed to have a thing about James. So Agatha sat placidly, smoking and dreaming of the moment when the evening would be over.
There was one sign of relief. A table was carried out into the garden and chairs set about it. She had dreaded having to stand on the grass in her spindly heels, eating off a paper plate.
Jill had reluctantly let go of James's arm and gone into the house. She reappeared with two of the women guests carrying wine bottles and glasses. "Everyone to the table," shouted David.
Agatha crushed out her cigarette on the patio stones and put the stub in her handbag. By the time she had heaved herself out of her chair, it was to find that James was seated next to Jill and another woman, and she was left to sit next to a florid-faced man who gave her a goggling stare and then turned to chat to the woman on his other side.
David put a plate of blackened charred things in front of Agatha. She helped herself to a glass of wine. The conversation became general, everyone talking about people Agatha did not know. Then she caught the name Andrew Lloyd Webber. "I do like his musicals," she said, glad to be able to talk about something. There was a little startled silence and then Jill said in a patronizing voice, "But his music is so derivative."
"All music is derivative," said Agatha.
"Dear me," tittered one of the female guests. "You'll be saying you like Barry Manilow next."
"Why not?" asked Agatha truculently. "He's a great performer. Got some good tunes, too." There was a startled silence and then everyone began to talk at once.
I will never understand the Gloucestershire middle classes, thought Agatha. Oh, well, might as well eat. She sliced a piece of what appeared to be chicken. Blood oozed out onto her plate.
James was laughing at something Jill was saying. He had not once looked in her direction. He had abandoned her as soon as they entered the house.
Suddenly a thought hit Agatha, a flash of the blindingly obvious. I do not need to stay here. These people are rude and James is a disgrace. She rose and went into the house. "Second door on your left," Jill shouted after her, assuming Agatha wanted to go to the toilet.
Agatha went straight through the house and outside. She got into her car and drove off. Let James find his own way home.
When she reached her cottage, she let herself in, went through to the kitchen and kicked off her sandals. Her cats circled her legs in welcome. "I've had a God-awful time," she told them. "James has finally been and gone and done it. I've grown up at last. I don't care if I never see him again."
* * *
"What an odd woman!" Jill was exclaiming. "To go off like that without a word."
"Well, you did rather cut her dead," said James uneasily. "I mean, she was left on her own, not knowing anyone."
"But one doesn't introduce people at parties any more."
"You introduced me."
"Oh, James, sweetie. Don't go on. Such weird behaviour." But the evening for James was ruined. He now saw these people through Agatha Raisin's small bearlike eyes.
"I'd better go and see if she's all right," he said, getting to his feet.
"I'll drive you," said Jill.
"No, please don't. It would be rude of you to leave your guests. I'll phone for a taxi."
James rang Agatha's doorbell, but she did not answer. He tried phoning but got no reply. He left a message for her to call back, but she did not.
He shrugged. Agatha would come around. She always did.
* * *
But to his amazement the days grew into weeks and Agatha continued to be chilly towards him. She turned down invitations to dinner, saying she was "too busy." He had met Patrick Mulligan one day in the village stores. Patrick worked for Agatha and he told James they were going through a quiet period.
When Sir Charles Fraith came to stay with Agatha, James began to be really worried. Charles, he knew, had once had an affair with Agatha. He dropped in and out of her life, occasionally helping her with cases. For the first time, James realized with amazement, he felt jealous. He had always taken it for granted that Agatha would remain, as far as he was concerned, her usual doting self. Something would have to be done.
* * *
"So how's your ex?" asked Charles one Saturday as he and Agatha sat in her garden.
"I told you. I neither know nor care. I told you about that terrible barbecue."
"They sound like shiters but we all know weird people."
"He abandoned me! And when they all started sniggering about Andrew Lloyd Webber, he did nothing to defend me."
"Oh, well. It's nice to see you off the hook. If you are off the hook."
But Agatha was addicted to obsessions. Without one going on in her head, she was left with herself, a state of affairs she did not enjoy.
"So no murders these days?" asked Charles.
"Not a one. Nothing but lost teenagers and cats and dogs. I feel guilty. I persuaded young Harry Beam, Mrs. Freedman's nephew, to stay with me another year before going to university. He's finding things very dull."
"Is everyone else still with you?"
"Yes, Mrs. Freedman is still secretary. Then there's Harry, Phil Marshall and Patrick Mulligan as detectives."
"Why don't you take some time off? Go away somewhere. Get away from brooding about him next door."
"I am not brooding about him next door!"
Charles was so self-contained and neat in his impeccably tailored clothes and well-cut fair hair that Agatha sometimes felt like striking him. Nothing seemed to ruffle Charles's calm surface. She often wondered what he really thought of her.
"Anyway," Agatha went on, "I'm taking time off from the office today. Mrs. Freedman will phone me if anything dramatic happens. What's up with Andrew Lloyd Webber anyway?"
"Don't ask me. I never could understand the middle classes."
* * *
Fuelled by jealousy, James did not pause to think whether he really wanted the often-infuriating Agatha back in his life. He watched and waited until Charles left and then watched some more until he saw Agatha leaving her cottage on foot. He shot out of his own door to waylay her.
"Hullo, James," said Agatha, her small eyes like two pebbles. "I'm just going down to the village stores."
"I'll walk with you. I have a proposition to make."
"This is so sudden," said Agatha cynically.
"Stop walking so quickly. I feel we got off to a bad start. It really was quite a dreadful barbecue. So I have a suggestion to make. If you're not too busy at the office, we could take a holiday together."
Agatha's heart began to thump and she stopped dead under the shade of a lilac tree.
"I thought I would surprise you and take you off somewhere special that was once very dear to me. You see, I may have told you I've given up writing military history. I now write travel books."
"Where did you think of?" asked Agatha, visions of Pacific islands and Italian villages racing through her brain.
"Ah, it is going to be a surprise."
Agatha hesitated. But then she knew if she refused, she would never forgive herself. "All right. What clothes should I take?"
"Whatever you usually take on holiday."
"And when would we leave?"
"As soon as possible. Say, the end of next week?"
"Fine. Where are you going?"
"Back home to make some phone calls."
* * *
Inside her cottage, Agatha looked at the phone and then decided she must simply communicate such marvellous news to her friend Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar's wife. She let her cats out into the garden and then hurried off to the vicarage.
With her grey hair and gentle face, Mrs. Bloxby always acted like a sort of balm on the turmoil of Agatha's feelings.
"Come in, Mrs. Raisin," she said. "You are all flushed."
Both Agatha and Mrs. Bloxby were members of the Carsely Ladies' Society and it was an old-fashioned tradition among the members that only second names should be used.
"We'll sit in the garden," said Mrs. Bloxby, leading the way. "Such a glorious day. Coffee?"
"No, don't bother." Agatha sat down in a garden chair and Mrs. Bloxby took the seat opposite her. Please let it not be anything to do with James, prayed Mrs. Bloxby. I do so hope she's got over that.
"It's James!" exclaimed Agatha, and Mrs. Bloxby's heart sank.
"I thought you were never going to have anything to do with him again."
"Oh, it was because of that terrible party that I told you about. Well, just listen to this. He is arranging to take me on holiday."
"It's to be a surprise."
"Is that such a good idea? It might be somewhere you'll hate."
"He's a travel writer now and travel writers don't write about dreary places. I must lose weight if I'm going to look good on the beach."
"But how do you know you are going to the beach?"
Agatha began to feel cross. "Look, he obviously wants to make it a romantic holiday. You're a bit depressing about all this."
Mrs. Bloxby sighed. "Of course I hope you will have a wonderful time. It's just ..."
"What?" snapped Agatha.
"It's just that James has always behaved like a confirmed bachelor and he can be quite self-centred. This holiday will be what he wants, not what he would think you would like."
Agatha rose angrily to her feet. "Well, sage of the ages, I'm off to do some shopping."
"Don't be angry with me," pleaded Mrs. Bloxby. "I most desperately don't want to see you getting hurt again." But the slamming of the garden door was her only reply.
* * *
Agatha threw herself into a fever of shopping: new swimsuit, filmy evening dress, beach clothes and beach bag. In her fantasies, James and she stood on the terrace of a hotel, looking out at the moonlight on the Mediterranean. He took her in his arms, his voice husky with desire and he said, "I've always loved you."
Patrick Mulligan, Phil Marshall and Harry Beam all assured her they could easily cope in her absence.
When the great day of departure arrived, she could hear James tooting angrily on the car horn as she packed and repacked. At last, heaving a suitcase that was so heavy it felt as if it had an anvil in it, she emerged from her cottage. The lover of her fantasies fled, to be replaced by the very real and present James Lacey. He lifted her suitcase into the boot and said, "I thought you were going to be in there all day."
"Well, here I am," said Agatha brightly.
Agatha had been unable to sleep the previous night because of excitement. Shortly after they had driven off, she fell into a heavy sleep. After two hours, she awoke with a start. Rain was smearing the windscreen. The scenery seemed to consist of factories.
"Are we at the airport yet?" she asked.
"We're not going to the airport. Shut up, Agatha. This is supposed to be a surprise."
Must be going to take the ferry, thought Agatha. Oh, how marvellous it would be to get out of dreary grey England and into the foreign sunshine. The factories and then some villas gave way to rain-swept countryside where wet sheep huddled in the shelter of drystone walls. A kestrel sailed overhead like a harbinger of doom.
"Where are we?" asked Agatha.
"Which Channel ferry runs from Sussex?"
"Don't spoil the surprise, Agatha, by asking questions."
With rising apprehension, Agatha watched the miles of rain-soaked countryside go by. Were they going to Brighton? Now that would be really unoriginal.
James drove along a cliff road, then turned off. After two miles, he pulled into the side of the road in front of a sign that said "Snoth-on-Sea."
"This is the surprise," he said portentously. "This is one of the last unspoilt seaside resorts in Britain. I used to come here as a boy with my parents. Beautiful place. You'll love it."
Agatha was stricken into silence, thinking of all the light clothes and beachwear and all the bottles of suntan lotion, face creams and make-up that were weighing down her suitcase. She tried to get Mrs. Bloxby's gentle voice out of her head. "This holiday will be what he wants, not what he would think you would like."
James drove slowly down into the town, prepared to savour every moment. On the outskirts, he received his first shock. There was a large housing estate — a grubby, depressed-looking housing estate. With rising anxiety, he motored on into the town. He had booked them rooms at the Palace Hotel, which he remembered as an endearingly grand Edwardian building facing the sea and the pier. Oh, that wonderful theatre at the end of the pier where his parents had taken him with his sister to watch vaudeville shows.
As he headed for the seafront, he saw that all the little shops that used to sell things like ice cream and postcards had been replaced by chain stores. The main street that ran parallel to the seafront had been widened and was full of traffic. He longed now to reach the genteel relaxation of the Palace. He edged through a snarl of traffic. On the front, the black-and-grey sea heaved angrily, sending up plumes of spray. There was the pier, but the part where the theatre had been had fallen into the sea.
Excerpted from Love, Lies and Liquor by M. C. Beaton. Copyright © 2006 M. C. Beaton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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