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Table of Contents
Titles by Ann Purser
MURDER ON MONDAY
TERROR ON TUESDAY
WEEPING ON WEDNESDAY
THEFT ON THURSDAY
FEAR ON FRIDAY
SECRETS ON SATURDAY
SORROW ON SUNDAY
WARNING AT ONE
TRAGEDY AT TWO
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Copyright © 2009 by Ann Purser.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
1. Meade, Lois (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction.
3. Country life—England—Fiction. 4. England—Fiction. I. Title.
who brightens our lives.
EXOTIC GYPSY GIRLS IN BRIGHT, SWIRLING SKIRTS AND FLASHING gold coin necklaces stamped to the dancing rhythms of music played by a swarthy young man on a lively fiddle. Lois Meade looked across at her husband, Derek, and her mother, both sound asleep in the sitting room, in spite of the television. She smiled and got silently to her feet. She would take just a few steps. . . . She swayed to the beat, and her feet began to move.
Derek and Gran slept on. Lois lifted her arms and began to circle the furniture. She hummed the tune, now wilder and faster. There was excitement and danger in it, and the promise of something wonderfully triumphant. As she twirled around the sofa, she had her eyes shut in imagined ecstasy. And so tripped over Derek’s feet.
“You all right, gel?” he said, rubbing his eyes. “We don’t want that ruddy noise, do we,” he said, and pressed the off button.
LOIS MEADE WAS A SENSIBLE MOTHER OF TWO GROWN-UP SONS and one daughter, and lived in Long Farnden, a small village in the heart of England. She had been born in the nearby town of Tresham, married Derek, an electrician, and having left school as soon as possible with zero qualifications, she had become a cleaner, choosing jobs outside town, in the villages around.
Lois was ambitious, provided there was no studying involved, and she and Derek scraped up enough money for the mortgage on a solid, substantial house that had belonged to one of her clients in Long Farnden. Here she set up a cleaning business, wittily named New Brooms. “We Sweep Cleaner” was the motto emblazoned on her white van. The business had taken off, and though Lois continued to have weekly staff meetings in her office at home, she was soon able to rent a main office in Tresham.
All very praiseworthy and straightforward. But Lois had been a rebel in her youth, and had even spent a night in a police station cell for refusing to give her correct name and details when she and her gang had been picked up for disorderly behaviour. She had quite cheerfully admitted that she carried a knife for self-protection in a school that had a reputation for being rough.
Now a law-abiding wife and mother, she still sometimes had a rebellious itch, needing the excitement that came from sailing close to the wind. For a few years now, she had been involved in gathering information helpful to the law.
In other words, she was an informer, working with the police. But not quite that, she would be at pains to point out. An amateur sleuth would be more accurate. She took no money, worked only on cases that interested her, or—as in her last involvement—where her own family was in danger. And probably the greatest incentive, she would be loath to admit, was that she worked only with Detective Chief Inspector Hunter Cowgill.
At the moment, she was having a fallow period. No ferretin’, as Derek called it. She had only the efficient organising of her business to think about. Her team of cleaners, including one young man who also took on interior décor commissions, was handpicked and knew their jobs inside out. All gathered at a meeting once a week at Lois’s house, and Hazel, one of the longest serving, manned the office in Tresham.
“I was enjoying that,” Lois said now, frowning at Derek. “It’s me gypsy blood.”
“What gypsy blood?” Gran said sharply. She had an uncanny knack of being able to listen when apparently asleep. “There’s no tinkers in our family!”
Derek laughed. “What about Lois’s dad?” he teased. “He had dark skin and that nose he’s passed on to our Douglas. Definitely a gyppo’s nose, that.” He got to his feet and went over to help Gran to her feet. “Come on,” he said, “time we all went to bye-byes.”
Lois sniffed. “Time you stopped saying that,” she snapped. “We got no children now, don’t forget.”
“Ah,” said Gran, “but it might not be long.”
“I’m off,” said Lois, but Derek stared at Gran.
“You know something I don’t?” he said.
“Douglas and Susie, o’ course.”
“Blimey, they’re not wed yet. Give ’em a chance.”
Derek went to the window to draw the curtains back ready for morning. “Hey, Lois!” he called. “Come down here. Something’s going on outside!” He put out the lights, and the three of them stood at the window, peering out. A car had drawn up outside their gate, and the interior light was on. A man was speaking on a mobile phone. Then he began to get out of the car, and Lois caught her breath. As the door opened, she saw who it was.
“It’s him!” she said. “What a cheek, at this time of night! It’s Hunter Cowgill. Come on, let’s creep upstairs and pretend we’re asleep. Quick, Gran! He’s coming up the drive.”
By the time the soft knocking began at the door, Gran was safely in her room, and Lois sat hand in hand with Derek on the top stair.
Cowgill did not go away. He knocked louder, and then called through the letter box. “Sorry, Lois, but it’s urgent. Derek? Could you open up for a minute?”
Lois put her finger to her lips and turned to Derek. He was making a strange face, his eyes half-closed. Then he sneezed, twice, muffled as best he could. Then, after a loud gasp, a final explosion at full volume.
Lois got wearily to her feet. “It’s a fair cop,” she said to Cowgill as she opened the door. “You’d better come in.”
DEREK PUT ON THE LIGHTS IN THE SITTING ROOM AND LOOKED at Lois. “I don’t suppose you want me here,” he said. It was a statement, not a question. “I’ll be in the kitchen. Shall I put the kettle on?”
“No,” Lois said firmly. “This won’t take long.”
Cowgill nodded. “I’ll be as brief as possible,” he said, and waited until Derek had gone out and shut the door behind him.
“Sorry about this,” he began, but Lois interrupted him.
“Cut the apologies,” she said. “What d’you want? It had better be important.”
“It is. Your daughter Josie’s partner has been found badly beaten up in a ditch on the way to Waltonby. He’s been taken into Tresham General, and Josie is with him. I promised her I would tell you straightaway.”
“Rob? Beaten up? Oh, dear God, no! What on earth was he doing out there at this time of night?”
“Seems he could have been there a while. A passing motorist spotted him and alerted us. Are you all right, Lois?” he added. She was very pale, and did not look too steady to him. He got up and called through to the kitchen. “Derek! I think we need that kettle on after all.”
“I want Derek in here. Without the tea,” said Lois, shaking herself.
Cowgill went over the facts again, and saw that Lois had taken Derek’s hand for reassurance. “It is up to you both whether you want to go to the hospital straightaway,” he said. “Josie looked shattered, of course. She might be glad of some support.”
“Is his life in danger?” Derek asked. Rob was not his favourite person, but he’d been Josie’s partner for some time and Derek respected that. He had noticed that the relationship had cooled off lately, partly because Cowgill’s nephew Matthew Vickers, also a policeman and lately transferred to the Tresham force, had shown considerable interest in Josie. Derek was not blind. He could see the way the wind was blowing.
“I couldn’t tell you how seriously he is hurt, I’m afraid,” Cowgill answered. “No doubt Josie has been told.”
“Of course we’ll go in to the General,” Lois said. “Good job we’d only just gone up. Have you any idea who could’ve attacked Rob?” she asked Cowgill. He shook his head. “Not yet,” he said.
“Rob’s a bit of a wimp,” said Derek carefully. “Not so good at defending himself, I’d say.”
“Oh, come on, Derek,” Lois said. “Let’s get going. Your van or mine?”
JOSIE WAS SITTING IN A HUDDLE BY THE HOSPITAL BED, WHERE Rob lay unmoving, with monitoring equipment pipping away beside him. She looked up as she heard her parents approach, and Lois’s heart lurched. “Oh, Josie,” she whispered, and put her arms around her, “It’s all right, duckie,” she said, “Mum’s here.”
“And Dad,” Derek said, putting his hand on Josie’s shoulder. A nurse brought up two chairs for them, and they sat down. For some time they sat without speaking, holding hands. Lois had not looked at Rob’s face, but now steeled herself and glanced over at the bed. His eyes were swollen and bruised, and the rest of his face was like a piece of raw steak.
“The bastards,” Derek whispered. He leaned across to Josie, who was now sitting up straight and staring fixedly at Rob. “Don’t worry, me duck,” he said. “We’ll get ’em.”
Now the nurse returned and beckoned to Josie, who disappeared with her into the corridor. Lois looked at Derek with raised eyebrows. He shook his head and shrugged. Rob didn’t look at all good to him, but with all that bruising and swelling it was difficult to guess how bad he was in himself.
Josie reappeared and sat down again. She looked at Lois and her chin quivered. “He’s got a chance,” she said quietly. “That’s all they can say at the moment.” Then a tear ran down her cheek unchecked. “It’s all my fault,” she blurted out, and the dam burst.
IT WAS GETTING LIGHT BY THE TIME LOIS AND DEREK LEFT THE hospital. Lois had not wanted to go, but the nurse had assured her they would look after Josie. She had said there was no point in them losing sleep when they had to work the next day. “Or I should say today,” she said with a smile. “You’ll be able to get three or four hours in if you go straightaway,” she had said firmly, and now they were on the way back to Long Farnden.
“What did she mean, it was all her fault?” Lois asked.
Derek shook his head. “Search me,” he said. “The only thing I can think is that they had a row and Rob stormed out.”
“And got into a punch-up with a gang for no reason at all? Not very likely, is it? As you so tactfully put it, Rob is a bit of a wimp. He’s a mild chap and wouldn’t pick a quarrel with anybody, let alone a marauding gang.”
“Could’ve been just one drunk on his way home. Big bloke, took offence at nothing, like they do. Rob didn’t stand a chance. That’s my best guess.”
Lois opened the door wearily and found Gran in her dressing gown sitting at the kitchen table, head on her hands, fast asleep.
“Sshh!” Lois whispered to Derek, but Gran was waking up.
“There you are, then,” she said. “Tell me the worst.”
“All I’m telling you at the moment is that Rob’s got a good chance, and is in good hands.”
“Thank God.” Gran struggled to her feet and reached automatically for the kettle. “You two get off up to bed and I’ll bring you a cup of that calming rubbish Josie sells in the shop. She swears by it, but I bet it’d take more than tea that smells of cats’ pee to calm her right now.”
But by the time Gran had boiled the kettle on the Rayburn and taken up the tea, Lois and Derek were asleep, arms around each other. Gran felt her eyes prickle, and went sadly to her own bed. She looked at her photograph of Lois’s dad and wished more than usual that he was still alive.
THE PUB IN LONG FARNDEN HAD RECENTLY BEEN GIVEN A major makeover, which included renaming it. Most of the locals were dead against it, and sent a petition to the brewery asking for the original name to be kept. They might just as well have appealed to the man in the moon, said Derek, who had been a prime mover in all this.
“It’s not enough that we have to sit on silly little wimmin’s chairs,” he’d said. “Now a new sign goes up without our say-so, callin’ it the Toad and the Washerwoman! What’s that got to do with anything in Farnden? And this new landlord’s useless.”
Now he had only one worry on his mind, and looked morosely at the empty glass in his hand. He had been sitting there for an hour or so, gaining comfort from his friends. Gran had not argued for once when he said he’d have a pie and a pint to save her cooking lunch.
The new vicar, having said all the right things to Derek, got to his feet and left. The regulars ignored him. New landlord at the pub, new vicar in the church, it was all too much for them. Not that they were likely to be too bothered about the new vicar, except that he was one of those who drop in to the pub for a half of cider now and then, and so crossed their paths.
“Recruiting, they say,” said Sam Stratford, husband of one of Lois’s cleaners. Sheila had been with New Brooms for a long time, and Sam had more or less retired from farmwork.
“Wasting his time, then,” Derek said, looking at his watch. The new imitation old clock on the wall chimed a tinny two o’clock. At this point the door opened and a couple of dark strangers came in. Silence fell, and all heads turned. One of the two men was young, the other in his forties. They were tidy-looking, but different. More colourful, somehow, thought Derek. And watchful.
Sam leaned across to whisper in Derek’s ear. “Tinkers,” he said, not too quietly, and others around the table turned back to their drinks and nodded. Conversation gradually resumed, but nobody spoke to the two newcomers.
“Foreigners, maybe,” Derek answered. “Can’t understand a word they’re saying.”