Joan Lewis was born in Hertfordshire in the
UK and worked for five years in a National Newspaper office in London, after
which she married and spent the next eighteen years bringing up four children,
but always found time to write.
The family travelled with their children to
Eire in 1964 and for four years lived outside Dubin in a small village. In 1970
they moved to South Africa during which time she worked for a multi-millionaire
as confidant and assistant but later gained a position with a firm of
Accountants in Johannesburg. They moved to Australia in 1985 where she worked
for a firm of Accountants until her retirement in 1995.
She now resides on the Gold Coast in
Queensland enjoying her writing, especially crime mysteries.
Saturday: 11 August
Blissfully unaware of the tragic
event to later unfold Frederica Palmer Conan, Fred to everyone, a
thirty-year-old whose Titian hair and classic looks could have been seen in
Renaissance portraits, stretched her curvaceous body languorously between her
Egyptian cotton bed sheets. Donning a pair of cream pants and chocolate coloured
shirt, she went downstairs to make toast and coffee looking forward to the
She sat at the kitchen table sipping
coffee and breathing in the wonderful aroma of the freshly made brew. Looking
outside she could see the colourful array of flowers she had nurtured, even
though she was still unable to remember their names. Life is good despite losing
Jonathan three years ago she decided.
Jonathan, her late husband, had been
a foreign correspondent who had spent a great deal of their married life
overseas on assignments. His final assignment had been in Romania reporting on a
fresh outbreak of hostilities between two gangs in a small town. Sadly he and
his cameraman were killed by crossfire.
After Jonathan’s funeral, attended
by many friends in the media and newspaper world, Fred continued living in the
two-storey stone rambling cottage she and Jonathan had bought four years earlier
in Lower Madroc on the west coast of Cornwall.
Lower Madroc adjoins Higher Lower
Madroc and both villages enjoy a friendly rivalry by holding an annual darts
match in the Madroc Half public house which, as the name suggests, sits between
the two villages. At the moment Lower Madroc is the current champion which
Higher Lower Madroc has vowed to change next year.
Fred, a fully qualified
psychologist, began a new career as a photographer, a previous hobby, and had
converted one of the two barns in the grounds around her cottage into a studio.
She retained two staff, one her friend and confidant Julie Magee and an
eighteen-year-old, Anthea Semmens who, despite her young age, continually
excelled in the technology of digital photography.
Clearing away the breakfast things
Fred discovered it was already ten o’clock. As her hair appointment was at
eleven o’clock she climbed into her trusty Mini and made her way to the High
Street, managing to park in a side street.
She had time to call into the Golden
Memories antique shop, only a few doors away from the hairdressers, to choose a
suitable silver present for her friends, Rita and Brian Thompson. They were
giving a lavish twenty fifth wedding anniversary party tonight. She knew she
should have done this earlier but had been caught up in her work and hoped she
would find a suitable gift.
She pushed open the door of the
antique shop and entered. It was a treasure trove of old and well loved
furniture. In one corner stood a mahogany cabinet appointed with old fashioned
brass handles. In another corner Jasper Samuels, the owner, had hung glorious
straw hats swathed in lengths of tulle and feathers on a brass hat stand.
Fred sighed musing that entering
this shop transported you back to the grandeur of the Victorian and Edwardian
“Good morning, Fred,” said the
jovial gentleman dressed like a character from one of Charles Dickens’ novels.
Although ridiculed by many of the locals, Jasper always maintained the tourists
loved his attire.
“Morning, Jasper,” she replied.
“Come to browse this time or may I
help you with something?” he enquired.
“As usual I am late buying a present
and I need something silver for a twenty fifth wedding anniversary,” Fred
“Oh I see. Do you know if the couple
have any particular interests which might suggest the kind of present they would
like?” Jasper asked hoping to make a profitable sale as business had been a
little slow of late.
“I know they like the medieval
style,” she said eyeing a few plates lining the walls of the shop, although most
of these were brass or copper.
“I tell you what I do have,” Jasper
said in a conspiratorial manner. “A replica Black Prince dagger. These have
become quite a collector’s item. I have one at the back of the shop.” He
disappeared behind some bead curtains and reappeared holding a dagger with an
ebony and silver handle and stainless steel blade.
Fred examined the dagger and
remembered the antique glass case Rita and Brian had recently purchased for
their billiard room. She decided this would make an excellent addition to their
existing collection of various antique daggers and pistols.
“This is quite an impressive piece I
must say,” Fred remarked. “How much?”
“Well, they are new on the market
and are also a limited stock item, but for you Fred, as a valued customer, shall
we say £200?”
Fred replied with a smile “Shall we
say £150 and you have a deal?”
“Done,” he said in mock dismay. “You
drive a hard bargain, m’dear.”
The purchase made and the dagger
safely placed in a black box Fred said her farewells to Jasper and made her way
to the hairdressers very pleased with her acquisition.
After leaving the hairdressers she
stopped at the newsagents to buy silver wrapping paper and bumped into Samantha
Bostock, a pathologist with the Pendlehurst Police. Sam, a six-foot-tall
athletic woman with short blonde hair, a wonderful smile and sense of humour,
was married to the local vet, Peter also six feet tall, lean with a craggy face
and gentle disposition. Sam told friends that whenever a child took a pet to his
surgery Peter would put his ear to the animal’s mouth and pretend the injured
creature was talking to him.
“Hi Sam,” Fred said and gave her a
hug. “Are you going to Rita and Brian’s tonight?”
Sam nodded. “We wouldn’t want to
miss it for the world. They sure know how to throw an extravagant party. What
are you doing here?” she asked.
“Buying wrapping paper for their
present I have only just bought. I haven’t seen you for ages. How about coming
back with me to have a spot of lunch and catch up?”
“Sounds good, but where shall I
leave my bike?” Sam replied. Half the time Sam forgot to prepare food and
evening meals were usually a take-away.
“That’s alright,” Fred replied. “We
can put your bike on my car rack.”
They secured the bike on top of the
Mini and chatted happily until they reached Fred’s cottage.
She prepared a light lunch of French
breadsticks and cheese accompanied by a glass of Spanish Riesling and they sat
in the kitchen gazing out towards the green fields surrounding the college and
riding school adjoining Fred’s property.
Sam asked, “Do you know the other
couples going tonight, Fred?”
“Only a few of them,” she replied.
“Rita and Brian move in different circles since Brian became involved in a
gaming club in Belgravia.
After drinking their wine, whilst
listening to Debussy’s Images for piano emanating from the radio, Sam stretched.
“I must go before I fall asleep,”
she said. “Thanks for lunch. I’ll see you tonight.”
Fred lifted Sam’s cycle from the
roof rack and with a wave and a shout of “Don’t fall off,” she returned to the
kitchen to clear the dishes.
Going into the lounge to read the
paper, she fell asleep on the couch and woke with a start. It was five o’clock.
She headed for the bathroom to change for the party. What to wear, what to wear,
she wondered opening the bedroom closet. Her taste in clothes was not
ostentatious. She chose a white Grecian style dress purchased in Ankara where
she last holidayed with Jonathan four years ago. She sighed, picked up her
camera and checked it over. Naturally she had been assigned to officiate as
photographer tonight and knew you were only as good as your equipment.
Rita and Brian lived about an hour’s
drive away so she climbed into her Mini and drove through Lower Madroc to Higher
Lower Madroc. They lived in a large country house at the edge of the village.
You certainly couldn’t miss it tonight, as along the winding driveway Brian had
arranged masses of silver balloons and bells tied to lampposts lighting the way
to their front courtyard.
Fred heard general chatter and
laughing so the party had got off to an early start. As she parked in the front
courtyard Brian came out to greet her. He was good looking, of medium height but
powerfully built. The kind of man who would be an asset in times of trouble.
“Thought I heard your car driving
in,” he said.
“How did you know it was me?” Fred
retorted as she alighted from the car.
He replied “All cars have a certain
sound and one always knows which friend is in which car.” Brian used to be a car
salesman many years ago so there could be some truth in that.
“Come in,” Brian said slipping an
arm round Fred’s waist. He never missed an opportunity to latch on to a woman’s
anatomy somewhere but it was a harmless gesture.
“How are you love?” Brian asked.
Before she could reply he turned to
her and said, “Now don’t get mad, I am not deliberately matchmaking but you’re
sitting next to Sebastian Doyle tonight. He’s no fuddy duddy, in fact he’s about
your age give or take a couple of years. He is the new Detective Chief Inspector
at Pendlehurst Station replacing Garth Melly, who has retired to his cottage in
the Highlands of Scotland. Garth couldn’t make it tonight and asked if I would
extend the invitation to Sebastian as a goodwill gesture. I am sure you will
find a lot in common, especially with your police connection.”
Fred’s police connection was as an
occasional criminal profiler and the last thing she wanted to discuss with
anyone. She knew he meant well but she really didn’t appreciate being partnered
off with a member of the force, or anyone else for that matter.
Rita came towards her and kissed her
on both cheeks offering a glass of champagne which she took thankfully as she
followed her into the lounge to greet the guests already gathered.
“You look stunning in that dress,”
Rita said. “I feel quite dowdy beside you, you wretch.” Rita always tried to
soften the blow of Jonathan’s absence by complimenting her.
“Now, now, you know no one can
compete with you,” Fred retorted teasingly. “Where did you get that dress?”
“Well, believe it or not,” Rita
replied, “I met this wonderful woman, Gloria, at the last fund raising event for
the Animal Shelter League that was held in Penwithian a couple of months ago.”
“I don’t remember that,” Fred said.
“Oh that’s right; it was when you
were in London on some photographic show. Anyway Gloria told me she had just
completed her first label and was hoping to open a boutique in the Portabello
Road area in London. I asked her round to our apartment in town to show me some
of her designs and was so impressed I gave her a commission to make a dress for
my twenty fifth anniversary and, voila.” She twirled round making the bottom of
the silver georgette swirl into beautiful folds around her legs. “I was so
pleased with the end result I invited her and her husband here tonight. I’ll
introduce you later. I believe he is someone high up in the Diplomatic Corp.”
“The dress is gorgeous Rita and you
look beautiful,” Fred told her.
Rita beamed and looked liked the cat
who ate the cream.
Fred presented her gift to them.
Giving her a kiss and big hug they told her they were going to place all their
presents in the study and open them tomorrow when they were completely sober.
Rita made her way to the dining room
while Brian took their present into the study. He came back with a man in tow
whose apparent self confidence made his five feet eleven inches height seem over
seven feet. He was solidly built with short thick prematurely greying hair. He
was not handsome but had what, with a photographer’s eye, she would call a
character face almost Neolithic, his eyes a lavender colour neither blue nor
violet were quite distracting when he looked at you directly.
“Fred, this is Sebastian Doyle who
has just moved to Pendlehurst. Sebastian, this is our dearest friend Fred Conan.
You two are seated next to each other tonight so I thought you might like to
break the ice beforehand.” With the introduction completed, Brian turned and
walked away leaving them standing there.
“I am sorry you have been lumbered
with me tonight,” Sebastian said with an apologetic smile. “I think we are the
only two singles attending the celebration.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Fred
replied. “I am used to it. Brian hates to see a woman unaccompanied. Sometimes I
think he is still living in the forties. It does have its compensations though
as I have met some very interesting people at times.”
“I shall do my best to fall into
that category, even though I am surprised you are unaccompanied. Sorry, I am
being too personal,” he said with another apologetic look on his face.
She smiled but ignored his remark.
“How are you settling in at Pendlehurst Station?” she asked.
“Slow but getting there. You know
how it is? When a new broom arrives there is always a great deal of speculation
but I have a great team of people. In fact, I am quite impressed, but don’t tell
any of them I said that.”
Fred laughed and promised not to.
She excused herself as Rita had specifically asked her to take photos of the
dining room and table before everyone sat down to eat.
The dining room looked superb. A
walled mirror reflected the shimmering crystal chandeliers hanging from the high
ceiling down to the glittering silver candelabras on the long rosewood banquet
table. It was complemented by silver goblets placed along the only splash of
colour, a crimson velvet runner down the centre of the table. Once Fred had
completed her task Rita announced dinner was being served and the guests poured
into the room to take their allotted seats.
Sebastian joined Fred and as they
moved along the dining table to find their places she introduced him to Alistair
Notley and his wife, Sara.
“Hello, Sara,” Sebastian said
kissing her on the cheek. “I haven’t seen you for years.”
“Well, well, the prodigal son has
returned,” she said with a smile.
Sebastian did not reply.
“Let me introduce you to my husband,
Alistair,” she continued. “Darling, this is Sebastian Doyle who is now at
Pendlehurst Police Station.”
“I never done it, Guv,” said
Alistair laughing as the men shook hands. “Isn’t that what they all say,
“No such luck I’m afraid. If only
one could believe what is written our lives would be a lot easier I can assure
you,” Sebastian replied.
As Fred and Sebastian moved further
along Fred whispered to Sebastian. “Alistair is Brian’s accountant and
apparently quite a whiz when it comes to investments. How long have you known
“I went to school with her, or at
least my sister, Mary, went to school with her. I just dragged along behind,”
After greeting a few more guests
such as Reginald and Guinevere Trenowden, Reginald having been Brian’s best man
at his wedding, and Matilda and James Caxton, Rita’s parents, Fred and Sebastian
found their places at the table.
She again excused herself from the
company whilst she photographed the table from different angles, to capture the
guests enjoying the ambience, and returned to her place looking forward to what
she knew was going to be a wonderful gourmet experience.
“Rita loves to cater,” she told
Sebastian. “Not that she does it herself mind you, but she is certainly the
designer of the event.”
On Fred’s left sat a distinguished
looking man of about fifty. He turned to her and smiled.
“My name is Pierre Bouchet and this
is my wife, Gloria.”
“Oh yes,” Fred said turning to
Gloria, “Rita told me you had designed her gown. I must congratulate you as it
is absolutely stunning and so right for the occasion.” Gloria smiled an
“I am Fred Conan and this is
Sebastian Doyle,” she said pointing a hand in his direction. Pierre inclined his
head in greeting and they proceeded to enjoy the delights being placed before
Fred noticed that Sebastian had not
fared quite so well in the company next to him. It was Rita’s mother, Matilda
Caxton, who spent the whole time tut tutting about the expense of the evening.
The meal was superb with much
clinking of glasses and a few inevitable bawdy jokes at the expense of Rita and
Brian and their ability to remain together for so long.
After the guests had consumed
everything placed before them they were ushered out to the balcony. A trio
played and quite a few couples began dancing in the cool summer evening. Later a
firework display lit up the night sky and squeals of delight were heard at every
explosion of colour and formation.
Fred moved through the crowd of
guests taking more photographs. As she approached the back of the crowd with her
camera poised she snapped a couple coming forward onto the balcony from another
direction at the side of the house. They were straightening their clothes and
smiling at each other. Fred turned away and returned to Sebastian’s side in the
middle of the crowd to watch the final display of fireworks.
Eventually everyone gathered in the
formal lounge on the other side of the house to enjoy a farewell drink before
Suddenly one of the hired waitresses
burst into the room screaming
“He’s out there,” she screeched
pointing to the window overlooking one of the balconies, “and he’s got a knife.”
Her face was as white as a sheet.
“Who is?” Fred asked moving to look
out of the window.
“A masked man. He was crouching
behind the bins outside the kitchen when I went out to put rubbish in one of
them. He sprang out at me so I ran back through the kitchen,” she replied. “He
really scared me.”
Rita went over to the girl and gave
her a glass of brandy putting her arms around her shoulders while she drank it
in one gulp.
Fred watched Sebastian dash out of
the room and reappear in the lounge panting a little and announcing. “He must be
agile as there is no sign of anyone in the garden.”
“What happens now?” Fred asked him.
Sebastian replied, “I shall have to
take a statement from the waitress and will arrange for a couple of police
constables to search the grounds thoroughly. A patrol car will be organised to
pass by at intervals during the night,” hastily adding, “not that I suspect he
“Oh thank you, Sebastian,” Rita
said. “It will be a comfort to us I can assure you.”
Fred went over to Rita. “Should we
search the house to see if anything has been disturbed?” she asked.
Brian shook his head and Fred saw a
flicker of alarm in his eyes at this suggestion. She knew it had not gone
unnoticed by Sebastian either.
“I don’t think he had time to steal
anything,” Brian said. “Everyone is tired tonight but I’ll make a search in the
“Alright Brian, but I would like you
to call in to the station tomorrow and make a formal statement for insurance
purposes let alone anything else.”
“Yes of course, Sebastian.” He
turned to his guests and said, “I do apologise for all this and hope it has not
completely spoiled your evening,”
There was a general shaking of heads
and murmurings of not at all and everyone hoped nothing had been stolen,
especially with so many presents in the study. Reginald Trenowden started up
with, “For they are jolly good fellows” and soon everyone in the room raised
their glasses and chanted along with him. Collecting their coats and shouting
goodbyes to all and sundry the guests made for home after giving their phone
numbers to the constables before they left.
Sebastian went over to Fred.
“Are you driving home alone?” he
asked. “I don’t really think the intruder will hang around tonight but I would
be happy to organise a constable to accompany or follow you.”
Fred prided herself on being self
sufficient and besides this was in the shire of Madroc. Nothing really bad had
occurred here for years.
“That is kind of you,” she said. “I
have my mobile with me so I am sure it will be alright and I promise I will keep
my car doors locked until I reach home.”
“If you are sure but I will see you
out to your car.” He led the way outside whereby she got into her Mini and drove
out of the courtyard.
He sighed but smiled. Although not
pleasant this attempted burglary had provided him with a perfect excuse to speak
to her again.
Fred wished she had not shown so
much bravado as she drove home. At one point something darted into the middle of
the road and she screeched to a stop ready to scream. Looking through the
windscreen she could see it was a vixen, no doubt looking for a chicken to kill
for her cubs. Furtively looking in all directions, her heart pounding in her
chest, she revved up the engine and put her foot down hard on the accelerator
hoping and praying nothing else crossed her path before she reached home.
As she sped along the road into
Lower Madroc she passed a patrol car. She thought she was going to be pulled
over, but they were obviously on another call and she continued until she was in
her own courtyard and safely inside the front door, where she let out an
enormous sigh of relief. She needed a night cap and poured herself a brandy and
sat in the kitchen for a while.
The brandy had a calming effect and
she thought of the many photographs of the celebrating couple and their guests
she had taken. She was looking forward to choosing the six Rita and Brian might
decide to keep as a permanent reminder. Suddenly she realised she had not
thought of Jonathan all night, making her feel a little guilty, but she could
not deny she had enjoyed a wonderful evening and would contact Rita and Brian
tomorrow to thank them.
Suddenly feeling tired she dragged
herself up to bed after first checking all the doors and windows were locked.
“Come on now scaredy cat, the police will be out and about the area for a
while,” she said and consoled herself with this until she finally fell asleep.