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Cherringham - The Last Puzzle

Inhalt

  1. Cover
  2. Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
  3. The Authors
  4. Main Characters
  5. The Last Puzzle
  6. Copyright
  7. 1. Checkmate
  8. 2. The Heirs … Apparently
  9. 3. A Most Puzzling Will
  10. 4. Questions at the Pig
  11. 5. Let the Games Begin
  12. 6. Find the Lady
  13. 7. Seeking Doom
  14. 8. Lights On
  15. 9. Brotherly Love
  16. 10. Tea and Cake
  17. 11. Lies and More Lies
  18. 12. The Fatal Truth
  19. 13. Changing Rules
  20. 14. The Last Clue
  21. 15. Before Dawn
  22. 16. 11:23 a.m.
  23. 17. A View from the Hill
  24. 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. Checkmate

Brrr … thought Michael Edwards as he stepped out of his BMW estate and started up the steps to his good friend Quentin Andrews’ elegant townhouse — one of five that made up Cherringham Crescent.

The house, with its classic entrance flanked by two white columns, seemed more suited to an exclusive street in Holland Park than the quiet village of Cherringham.

But for those who were well-to-do and didn’t want to live in the sprawling countryside, amid the rolling hills and meandering Thames, the houses on the Crescent were a perfect alternative.

And Michael loved the place.

When he came for his weekly chess game with Quentin, played over a carefully selected single malt, it always made him feel that he had — in fact — been transported back to London.

As much as he loved the village, part of him missed the pulse and excitement of that great city.

That famous Samuel Johnson quote … so apt: when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.

Now, after having had a quick dinner with his wife, he knocked on the door, and then rang the bell.

He knew that Quentin enjoyed these weekly gatherings as much as he did.

It wasn’t just about the chess — though they’d had some epic battles on the sixty-four squares.

No, it was the conversation. Michael loved discussing politics, foreign policy, and world affairs with his friend. Though Quentin obviously had some governmental background — which he never seemed interested in revealing — and Michael himself had lived a life in the services, they tended to discuss things on, well, a loftier scale.

The emergence of the new African economies. The challenge of maintaining a military in a dire economy. America and its role in the world was always a favourite topic. Had the great superpower lost its way, would it be able to find it again?

That — and the game, and the single malts made for a rich evening indeed.

But now, standing at the door, so decidedly chilly — there was still no answer from within.

He rang the bell again, hearing it chime inside the Georgian house. Then, gloves on, Michael gave some hard raps to the door.

His breath made clouds billow from him as if he needed reminders of how cold this late February evening was.

“Come on, Quentin,” he said to no one. “Open the bloody door.”

Still — nothing.

Michael looked away. Should he dig out his phone, give the man a call? Had he dozed off after his own quiet dinner?

Quickly — and clumsily with his frozen fingers — Michael slid out his mobile, a device that apparently did everything but make tea.

Most of its features were wasted on Michael, who remembered the days when a phone was just a phone.

He had to slip off a glove to access the ‘contact’ list, search for the name and press ‘call’.

Then — up to his ear, to listen, ready to chide his friend for leaving him out here, at the entrance, freezing his—

But it just rang, and rang … and, after seven rings, went to answerphone.

Michael didn’t leave a message.

No, because, after the doorbell ringing and the knocks — and now a call — to have only silence, he was suddenly worried about his old friend.

He grabbed the doorknob, expecting the door to be locked but with some surprise, he felt it open.

That’s odd, thought Michael.

And he walked in out of the cold.

*

As soon as he was across the entrance, shutting the door quickly behind him, he called out loudly, “Quentin. Where the heck are you? Lost your hearing, man?”

Michael took off his camel-coloured overcoat, and draped it on an elegant chair in the entrance hallway, topped it with his calfskin gloves.

“Quentin?” he said again.

Though the place was silent, lights were on.

And while Michael didn’t have an idea where Quentin was, or what may have happened, he now felt even more worried and confused.

He looked left, to the sitting room where the vintage chess set sat on its own claw-footed table, with two comfortable wingback chairs on either side for the combatants.

All ready for the evening.

The room though was empty.

He started for the stairs, again calling out his friend’s name …

Quentin?

He headed up the staircase that gently curved as it neared the first floor, passing Quentin’s small gallery of military paintings. Trafalgar, Waterloo, an impressionistic painting of the trenches and a bunch of ill-fated boys about to go over the top to face rattling machine guns.

Michael took the steps slowly, his hand on the polished wooden bannister, slow step after slow step.

He felt a dryness in his mouth, his heart racing no matter how slowly he took those steps towards the landing of the upper floor.

Three bedrooms up here … he knew from a tour Quentin had once delivered, his friend laughing at the very idea that he’d ever have a guest to stay in those extra rooms.

Apart from their weekly meeting, Quentin seemed a solitary individual, and happily so …

Michael said his name again, even though by now it seemed pointless.

He walked to the left, traversing the rich carpet runner with its plush pile, a genuine Persian that ran from one end of the landing to the other.

Until he reached the master bedroom — the door open, a light within.

A slight pause — before Michael continued.

*

He walked in.

And for a second he took in what he saw and tried to interpret it in the best way possible.

There was Quentin, in a classic silk smoking jacket, belt tight, but otherwise dressed as if going out for dinner.

He was sitting in an armchair that faced his tall armoire and a large table with fresh-cut flowers in front of the frosted-over windows that looked down on Cherringham Crescent.

His friend.

Leaning back in the chair, head back, legs splayed out.

For a moment relief flooded through Michael. He’s sleeping. That’s all. Old fellow, let a snooze get the better of him.

But almost immediately Michael recognised that his thought was borne of hope; desperate, foolish.

“Oh dear,” he said to the empty room.

He walked over to the chair, to his reclining friend and saw Quentin’s wide-open eyes staring up at the ceiling.

Quentin Andrews was dead.

Michael knew that Quentin wasn’t young any more, and had battled a number of illnesses of the type that seemed to rear their heads as one passed out of middle age into some other stranger and scarier land.

There had been heart issues. A hip operation a few years back. Quentin wasn’t one for talking much about such ailments, but he hadn’t fought going to the local doctor and even beyond to get the help he needed.

No — Quentin Andrews loved his life, and would do every sensible thing to see it continue as long as possible.

Now — that life was over.

Michael stood there, hardly noticing that he was shaking as he studied the scene.

To be so alone with someone who — quite clearly — had died not too long ago. A few hours maybe?

Then Michael looked across to the great chest of drawers, unadorned by the usual photos and memorabilia.

A man’s treasures and secrets safely hidden deep inside.

But on top, just a few feet away, was a plastic vial.

Michael walked over to it; picked up the prescription medicine.

The instructions: In response to chest pain, take one pill immediately with water.

Michael looked at the container half-filled with the oblong pills.

Was that it then? A heart attack, like the one Michael himself had had a few years back, but this time, had there not been enough warning, not enough damn time to get to the pills that could avert disaster?

Avert death.

Michael walked back to his friend’s body.

He’d have to call someone. The police! Of course. And his wife. Yes he needed the sound of another human voice. Standing here, he felt so alone.

Maybe call Sarah as well. To hear the questions and concerns … and the voices of his dear family.

His phone was downstairs in his coat pocket. He’d have to leave his friend alone to get it.

But first, before he did that, he leaned down. His fingers splayed, outstretched, as he touched his friend’s eyelids and gently — as if pulling down the shades on a life — lowered them.

As Michael thought … Rest in peace, old friend, rest in peace …

2. The Heirs … Apparently

Sarah saw her assistant Grace go to the rear window of their office.

“Wow — that Quentin Andrews must have been somebody. Look at all those people.”

Sarah joined Grace at the window and watched the entrance to the church.

And indeed — it was something.

A crowd of people lined up at the large doors, big cars dropping off more mourners while drivers then drove off, presumably to search for spaces in the already jammed-up village centre.

“That’s odd,” she said.

Grace turned to her. “What?”

“I mean … Dad knew Mr. Andrews, he was his friend … but he always said he was a bit of a loner. Practically a recluse. So — who are all that lot?”

Grace looked back at the spectacle outside. “Doesn’t look to me like the funeral of a loner. Who was he?”

And to that, Sarah didn’t have an answer. Her father — who would be at the funeral — had only mentioned that his friend had worked in government decades ago, then in the City where he’d apparently amassed enough money for his well-appointed Cherringham home.

What Sarah was looking at below seemed more like a funeral for royalty or a movie star.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Hmm?” Grace said, turning.

“Doesn’t fit the man my father described. And somehow — I’m involved.”

“You? But you didn’t know him at all, did you?”

She turned to Grace. “Not even casually. But Tony Standish sent over a letter asking me to attend the reading of the will — straight after the service.”

Grace tilted her head. “You think — that somehow you’re mentioned in it?”

Sarah laughed. “I doubt it. For someone I didn’t even know?”

Grace turned back to the window. “People can do odd things as they get older, hmm? Who knows why? Either way — it should be interesting …”

Right, thought Sarah. Interesting to be sure.

As an old friend — someone who believed he was the deceased’s only friend — her father Michael would be there, though he too didn’t have a clue as to why Sarah had been asked to attend.

At that moment, with a few people still trying to get in the church, the massive bells of St. James began tolling slowly.

And having seen all those people, Sarah could hardly wait to attend the reading in Tony’s office.

There was something about this — Quentin Andrews, his funeral, the guests and the mysterious will — that had become very intriguing.

*

Sarah dashed across the High Street to Tony Standish’s office; a last-minute urgent call had her quickly checking new layouts for a nearby village’s website redesign.

Now, a few minutes after she should have arrived, she raced into the solicitor’s office, with a wave to Tony’s quiet and efficient secretary who looked like everyone’s idea of the perfect grandma …

She flew into the conference room, breathless, a quick apology for being late.

To see: Tony standing at his desk, a warm smile on his face. Such a good friend — and ally. Then, her father in a chair to Tony’s right, dressed in a black suit. And beyond him, a small knot of people in mourning — faces she didn’t recognise.

She made a mental note to have a quiet chat with her dad … about the friend he’d lost.

Reminding herself again how fleeting life and time is.

It all goes so fast.

She always thought her dad … and her mum … would be here forever.

But she also knew that just wasn’t true.

“Sarah — we haven’t begun yet. Just started the introductions. Your father here led us off.”

Then, as Sarah slipped off her coat, she turned left to the coat rack … to see someone sitting towards the back.

In a suit.

With a familiar smile.

Then — a nod to Sarah.

Jack!

What was he doing here? She hadn’t told him about her mysterious invitation to this event … but apparently he had been summoned as well.

Curiouser and curiouser …

They’d have to talk about that.

Jack gestured to a chair a few feet from his, not part of the circle of people gathered tightly around Tony’s desk.

As if the two of them were onlookers at this event.

She sat down, giving her friend a quick, if confused, smile.

Then back to those in attendance for the reading of the will.

*

First up, a woman in a grey suit, late thirties, wearing a sombre grey hat that wouldn’t have been out of place in a musty wardrobe in Downton Abbey.

“Emma Carter,” she said quietly, “Mr. Andrews’s personal carer.”

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