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Cherringham - Murder by Moonlight

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
  3. The Authors
  4. Main Characters
  5. Murder by Moonlight
  6. Copyright
  7. 1. The Rehearsal
  8. 2. A Moonlit Lane
  9. 3. Three Weeks Later
  10. 4. Here We Come A-Wassailing
  11. 5. A Walk in the Country
  12. 6. It’s Not What You Know
  13. 7. Questions for the Choir
  14. 8. The Singing Suspects
  15. 9. The Matter of Accounts
  16. 10. Some Like it Hot
  17. 11. Whodunnits
  18. 12. Sweat the Small Stuff
  19. 13. Home Sweet Home
  20. 14. Company
  21. 15. Suspicious Minds
  22. 16. A Little Drive in the Country
  23. 17. Cotswold Crunch
  24. 18. Deep and Crisp and Even
  25. Next episode

Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series

“Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series” is a series made up of self-contained stories. A new episode is released each month. The series is published in English as well as in German, and is only available in e-book form.

The Authors

Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Neil Richards has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.
His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90’s and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham is their first crime fiction as co-writers.

Main Characters

Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife a year ago. Being retired, all he wants is peace and quiet. Which is what he hopes to find in the quiet town of Cherringham, UK. Living on a canal boat, he enjoys his solitude. But soon enough he discovers that something is missing — the challenge of solving crimes. Surprisingly, Cherringham can help him with that.

Sarah Edwards is a web designer who was living in London with her husband and two kids. Two years ago, he ran off with his sexy American boss, and Sarah’s world fell apart. With her children she moved back to her home town, laid-back Cherringham. But the small town atmosphere is killing her all over again — nothing ever happens. At least, that’s what she thinks until Jack enters her life and changes it for good or worse …

1. The Rehearsal

Kirsty Kimball had to ask herself: had joining the Rotary really been a good idea?

One of the duties of a loyal Rotarian was to appear here, in this draughty room above the Village Hall, to rehearse for the big event of the upcoming holiday season, which is why Kirsty was standing here looking at lyrics and wishing she was at home.

The “big event”, that is, according to the long-time Rotarians who ran the organization, was The Christmas Lights of Cherringham, an evening fête that was supposedly good for local businesses, as well as being good for the village to see the various shop owners and local professionals, standing cheek to jowl, howling out bars of holiday classics.

There are better things to do with my evenings, Kirsty thought, thinking that standing here was almost insufferable.

“Ms Kimball — if you wouldn’t mind, eyes up here, if you will. We really can’t have people singing into their books.”

Kirsty wasn’t sure that The Almighty, Roger Reed — whose day job was managing the Greenwood Commercial Bank — did a very good job at smoothing things out here.

She shot him a nod and a smile, duly chagrined, and dutifully kept her eyes on Reed as he waved his arms like Mickey Mouse leading an army of brooms.

Yes, she thought. Maybe time to drop out of this organization, get her Thursday nights back again …

Though in these tricky times, she should be doing all she could to help her little gift shop, The Knick Knack, keep its head above water, and you could never tell how doing this might help. As the others never tired of reminding her — the unspoken bond of the Rotary is always to direct relevant commercial enquires to a fellow member.

One hand washing the other — isn’t that what they called it?

That was the goal anyway … along with staging a few charitable events, and the big Christmas concert in the village square.

She shivered and looked around her fellow singers. All had winter coats. Most wore hats. Nobody looked particularly happy. The dismal brown-floored room above the library had ancient cast-iron radiators but the village hall committee had decreed they should only be turned on when the temperature threatened freezing-point.

She thought of her snug little cottage, the wood-burner glowing cheerily, her supper in the slow-cooker …

Then she heard someone over in the basses belch trying to hit the first note of “We Three Kings”.

Lord …

Barrel-chested Pete Bull, proprietor of Bull Plumbing, standing next to smarmy Simon Rochester, CEO of a financial thingamajig of some sort.

What exactly did he do? She’d never quite worked it out. She always thought it odd when someone explained what they did for a living, and afterwards you still didn’t have a bloody clue.

Rochester had told her before how he felt “compelled” to perform this local service. Otherwise, Kirsty couldn’t imagine why on earth he would deign to stand next to Pete Bull as if they were actually mates, toiling together in the commercial trenches of the Cherringham economy.

And as if she could feel his eyes, Kirsty quickly redirected her gaze to the front, just catching the ever hawk-eyed Roger Reed about to fire another withering glare her way.

Kirsty smiled as she sang as if to say, see, I’m looking at you! Roger seemed to smile back. But then Kirsty realized the smile was aimed at her fellow soprano Emma Hilloc, standing beside her, singing as usual just a quarter tone flatter than the rest of the choir. Another reason to reconsider whether she really belonged here …

Anyway — a few more carols, and they’d finally break for the night.

And that thought really made Kirsty smile.

Kirsty had gone to recover her coat and bag from the little cloakroom at the back which was filled with the smell of mothballs and the dry wood of the old building and where finding one’s things at the end of the rehearsal was a game of hide-and-seek.

When she spun around, ready to make her exit, she faced Martha Bernard, the choir’s pianist.

Though retired from full-time work, Martha remained active in the Rotary, loyally organizing the snacks for each session: tonight’s were multiple iterations of biscuits, cakes and the obligatory weak tea, and Martha was hoping to escape unnoticed.

“Running away so fast, Kirsty?”

Kirsty fixed a smile to her face.

“No, Martha. Just getting ready for my walk home. I’m snowed under with work right now. Orders for Christmas, you know …”

Not true, and Kirsty felt that Martha could see that.

“You young business women! Always bustling about. It’s a different world from my day. As you know.”

Martha stood leaning on her walking stick. In her other hand she held a plate piled high with biscuits as if it might anchor Kirsty and prevent her quick dash away.

“Can’t I tempt you? Got your favourite. Oatmeal raisin.”

Kirsty looked at the plate, chocolate chips side by side with what indeed looked like yummy, crunchy oatmeal raisin biscuits. A few homemade shortbreads sat to one side as if not up for the competition. Martha’s eyes seemed to drill into her.

“Why not,” Kirsty said, taking an oatmeal raisin cookie.

And because Martha was so studious in her preparations for the snacks at all these events, Kirsty knew she didn’t have to ask the usual question, the question that was part of her daily life, something she watched, no matter what she ate or where she went.

For under Martha’s watchful instructions to all who baked, Kirsty could be absolutely sure that there were no peanuts in the pile of goodies.

She quickly dispatched one oatmeal raisin, then another.

Martha smiled, seeming to take a special interest in Kirsty.

Is it because I’m a woman on my own? she thought.

Which was true — and also not.

“Oh, go on, take a few more for the walk back to your cottage,” Martha said, the plate still extended like an ancient offering.

”I’d love to, Martha,” said Kirsty. “But I mustn’t spoil my supper.” Hard to say no — they were yummy indeed.

She could see over Martha’s shoulder. Most of the Rotarians were sipping their tea, chatting, enjoying the odd mix of classes, professions and interests. Her good friend Beth was right at the heart of the group, laughing, at ease with Emma’s husband Thomas. She caught Beth’s eye, gestured that she had to leave — and Beth smiled and nodded back at her.

And for a moment she had to think … maybe not such a bad organization after all.

For those who like that kind of thing.

Maybe she could move into the tenors with Beth next week — have a bit more of a laugh …

She was aware of Martha, still watching her, and turned brightly.

“And now, I really must go!”

With a grin, Kirsty turned to the double doors that led to the creaky wooden stairs, down to the lobby, and out into the chilly night air.

2. A Moonlit Lane

Kirsty looked up.

The full moon sat overhead, a giant headlight beaming down perfectly, making the tree-lined path back to her cottage glow.

She loved this walk, whether in the first light of morning or now, when it was so still, even a bit spooky as dry leaves crunched under her feet and the warmth of Cherringham’s lights faded behind her.

And she was eager to get back.

Nothing really special planned for this evening but supper — and a phone call.

But even that call, sitting curled up on the sofa, just talking, planning, plotting — on the phone — was exciting.

When she came to a break in the trees on either side of the lane, she could look out to the low lying hills, seeing the lights of East Charlton in the distance, the faint trail of a car’s lights winding its way through the maze of hedges and narrow roads, visible one moment, vanishing the next.

And it had turned cold too!

She had pulled her scarf tight, and then buttoned her wool Barbour coat fully up to her neck. No gloves — and suddenly she knew it had turned into that time of year to keep them at hand.

She reached the slight bend where the lane dog-legged right up to an incline that would lead to her cottage, one of a cluster of buildings that sat together.

She was hurrying now, trying to ward off the cold, unsuccessfully. She was equidistant between the town and the cottages and felt a little rush of excitement at the thought of getting home.

Then she felt something else.

A slight tingle.

It hit her lips as if the tiniest jolt of electricity had raced around her mouth, an early warning sign.

And one she recognised.

She didn’t stop walking; if anything, she picked up her pace. But that burr said that something was happening.

She was having a reaction.

Instinctively, she ran her tongue over her lips as if she might feel something there as her lips turned puffy.

But of course — nothing.

And with that tingle came a numbness, as if they weren’t her lips at all.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Kirsty knew that.

She waited for the few seconds for what she knew would be the next reaction. The same feeling on her tongue, that same buzzy feeling, as if the electric circuit was expanding and the tongue tip that had attempted to feel what was numbing her mouth, now also began to grow numb.

Numb, and yet at the same time … swelling.

“God,” she said. The inflammation of her lips and tongue was not yet bad enough that the word was slurred, or muffled.

But that would surely happen.

She immediately wondered how? How could this be happening?

She was so careful, all the time. Always so careful …

She stopped now. Had to, as she quickly opened her handbag and with the help of the bold light of the moon, dug into the bag for what she knew was there.

She didn’t go anywhere without it, she couldn’t — it was always in her bag.

An EpiPen.

She had to push aside her purse, car keys, her secret pack of cigarettes — indulged in one a time at very special occasions when the sweet smoke could feel so good — and held the bag with one hand so that it fell open like a gaping mouth. With the other she dug, scratched and scrambled inside.

She couldn’t feel her swelling tongue but felt the pressure against the roof of her mouth as it got larger.

So much larger than a tongue should be. Her lips vanished, no sensation whatsoever.

This was crazy. She always carried two pens in her bag — surely they hadn’t both vanished?

She said the words … “Where the h…”

Except it sounded like garbled muttering.

Then, total relief as she felt the thick tube of an EpiPen.

She had it.

And she pulled it out as she lowered the bag to the ground.

Taking her time, with practised moves, she very carefully removed the cap and slid the pen out of its plastic carrying case.

She let the case fall to the ground as she pressed the pen against her mid-thigh. It didn’t matter that she was wearing trousers — the needle would go straight through, right into the muscle.

And in moments, it would send epinephrine racing into her system. Almost miraculously the swelling would stop, and like a balloon deflating, her tongue would return to normal.

And by the time she got to her door, it would be as if nothing had happened.

Kirsty performed the injection move as she had been instructed, a move she had done twice before in response to the early warnings of an anaphylactic reaction.

The black tip of the pen against her thigh. Upper end grasped tightly in her fist.

Then one quick move, pushing hard, and the needle would shoot in, delivering the life-saving drug.

She pressed hard against her leg.

Except …

Except …

(And now she felt disbelief, as she pressed again and again …)

No needle came out.

Her fist pumped up and down, but the pen was dead.

That could only happen if the pen had been used.

She stood up straight, recovering from the crouch she had adopted to inject herself.

Impossible, she thought, all her EpiPens were new, fresh prescriptions only a few months ago. And never used!

And yet, here was this one, fully expended.

Her tongue felt like a piece of shoe leather in her mouth, swelling, expanding, as if eager to fill the entire cavity.

She felt the first tinge of that swelling in the back of her throat and she had only one thought:

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