Praise for Rebecca Tope’s
‘Beautiful descriptions of the countryside …
Excellent thriller with plenty of
Good Book Gui de quirks and plot twists’
‘The classic English village mystery is alive and
well and living in Gloucestershire’
‘Tope is particularly skilled in creating interesting
and unique characters, and Thea is
one of her best’ Deadly Pleasures
‘Tope’s blending of research, restraint, and a
fascinating protagonist narrator makes this story a
winner for fans of British mysteries’ reviewingtheevidence.com
‘One of the most intelligent and
thought-provoking of today’s crime writers’ Mystery Women
A Cotswold Mystery
For some of my oldest friends Dot, Margot, Sally and Willow
About the Author
By Rebecca Tope
The house at the centre of this story is in Blockley High street. I don’t know which one itis, and neither does anybody else. Details of walls, alleys and gardens have wantonly deviatedfrom reality.
Thea had been warned, but she couldn’t help feeling the warning was inadequate when it came tothe point. Mr and Mrs Montgomery – Ron and Yvette as they insisted on being addressed – hadinstructed her to use the street door to the ‘cottage’, and not the one connecting the twodwellings from the inside. ‘Granny would probably die of shock if you just walked in on her,’laughed Yvette. ‘And we don’t want that, do we?’
Ron’s flickering left eyebrow had seemed to say Don’t we? but both women ignored him.
So Thea had to stand for four interminable minutes at the door, knocking, ringing and calling‘Mrs Gardner?’ repeatedly. Feeling embarrassingly conspicuous, she considered giving up andtrying again later. There was no urgent need to meet her new charge, in any case. It was mainlyout of curiosity that she had headed straight for the cottage even before unloading her bag andsettling into the main house. Despite the emptiness of the street, she could feel eyes on herfrom surrounding windows, and her dog was whining in the car nearby.
She had ample time to get to know Blockley High Street in all its charming particulars. Thedeep orangey-yellow of the stone; the raised pavement, keeping pedestrians well away from thealmost non-existent traffic; the individualism of each house. On the opposite side from whereThea stood, the ground fell away so that the houses were considerably lower than the street.Behind them the land rose again, displaying fields and woods to the south.
Eventually her wait was rewarded when a tiny woman began to jingle keys and locks on the otherside, muttering quite audibly, ‘Now who can this be, just when I’m having my nap?’ Theacould see her head and shoulders through the stained glass that filled the upper part of thedoor.
‘Hello?’ she said, the moment the white head was visible through the slender crack betweendoor and frame. ‘Mrs Gardner? I’m Thea Osborne. Your daughter has asked me to stay here whilethey’re away. I’m sure they told you I was coming.’ She tried to sound warm butunpatronising, loud but not strident. Nobody had mentioned that Granny was deaf.
‘My daughter’s gone,’ came the firm reply. ‘No use looking for her.’ The door did not openany further, and all Thea could see was a small face looking suspiciously up at her.
‘Yes, I know. I’m here instead. Can I come in for a minute?’
The door remained firmly where it was, giving Thea no further sight of the person inside.‘What for? I was having my nap. I always have it at three o’clock sharp.’
Thea refrained from advising the old woman that it was actually half past eleven. ‘Allright,’ she said. ‘I’ll come back later, shall I? I’m staying in the main house whileYvette’s away with her husband.’
‘Oh, Yvette ,’ came the dismissive response. ‘Don’t talk to me about Yvette. Much shecares about her poor old mother. Selfish hussy she is.’
Thea made no attempt to defend her temporary employer with protestations about expense andtrouble devoted to ensuring Granny’s welfare. Instead, she withdrew and made her way along thepavement to another door in the same deep-yellow building in the historic Georgian centre ofBlockley. This time she did have a key, given to her by the Montgomerys earlier in the month,which she quickly used. Directly in front of her was a small cupboard, containing the burglaralarm. She had to tap in 8442 before sirens yowled and klaxons clanged, or whatever ghastlynoise had been primed to go off if the aborting numbers were not employed. Her hand shook withthe sense of urgency. ‘Bloody thing,’ she muttered.
Out in the street, her spaniel waited impatiently for release from the car. With a rapid glancearound the large hall, Thea retraced her steps, carefully leaving the door on the latch.
Despite the almost total absence of traffic in the quiet centre of the little town, she heldtightly to the dog’s collar, clipping a lead to it before letting her jump out of the car. Acry of delight filled the air a few seconds later.
Granny Gardner was now standing in her wide-open doorway, wearing an orange dressing gown andgreen fluffy slippers, her hands clasped together under her chin. ‘A spaniel!’ she crowed.
darling !’ ‘The lovely little
Accustomed to adoration, Hepzibah strained to approach her admirer. Thea permitted herself tobe dragged along, and watched resignedly as the friendship was rapidly cemented between theancient woman and the exuberant dog. Neither paid Thea the slightest attention, until at lastGranny glanced up at her. ‘What’s her name?’ she asked.
‘Hepzibah,’ said Thea, feeling the usual shiver of regret at the rashness of her choice.‘Hepzie for short.’
‘And a long tail! You don’t see that very often. Doesn’t it make a difference to theshape!’
It was true that Hepzie had a different outline to most cocker spaniels, truncated at thebuttocks as they almost always were. Thea nodded, recognising that her initial assessment ofold Mrs Gardner might have been hasty. She certainly knew a bit about dogs and Hepzie clearlyjudged her to be a highly acceptable example of humankind.
‘Who are you, dear? I haven’t seen you in Blockley before, have I? You’re not one of thesecelebrity people, are you?’
Thea laughed. ‘No, no. I’m staying in the house here – your daughter’s house. She’s askedme to be on hand if you need anything. She’s gone away, you see.’
Mrs Gardner frowned. ‘Went away a long time ago, didn’t she?’ She was now sitting on herdoorstep, with the dog between her knees. The over-long ears and huge liquid eyes were doingtheir irresistible spaniel thing, the old lady’s hands gripping the soft neck affectionately.‘Is she coming back?’
‘Next week, yes. She’s gone for ten days. To India. I’m staying in the house.’ Thea heardherself shouting. Already she had lost count of the times she’d repeated herself. There had tobe a better way to get the facts across.
‘They cut the tails off for a reason, you know,’ said Granny, fingering Hepzie’s plumyappendage. ‘I could do it now for you, if you like. I’ve got a good knife.’
This abrupt change of tack sent Thea’s heart thumping. She took a step back, still holding thedog lead, jerking the animal. ‘No!’ she choked. ‘Absolutely not.’ She was disturbed to findhow seriously she took the threat. Hepzie jumped away from her new friend and stood on thepavement watching and wagging.
The old woman smiled, showing unnaturally perfect dentures. ‘Only joking, lovey,’ shechuckled. ‘But if you ask me, it spoils the line. And see how she wags – it’s all in thehips, not really the tail at all.’
Thea looked at her squirming pet and the way her entire spine curved with the effort ofexpressing pleasure. ‘Well, she’s keeping it,’ she said. ‘It wouldn’t be legal to cut itoff now, anyway.’
With a sudden movement, Mrs Gardner stood up. She seemed remarkably supple for her years, whichsurely had to be at least eighty, since her daughter was sixty or more. ‘Well, mustn’t keepyou,’ she said. ‘Julian’s going to be here soon, and look at me – not even dressed yet! Doyou happen to know what time it is, dear?’ She squinted up at the bright March sky. ‘Lookslike dinner time. I thought I was due for my nap, but that’s wrong, isn’t it?’
‘It’s just about twelve o’clock,’ said Thea. ‘Would you like me to help you get your lunchready? Mrs Montgomery did say you might need a bit of a hand.’
‘Who are you, anyway?’
thought Thea with a sense of helpless irritation. ‘My name’s Thea, TheaHere we go again
Osborne. I’m here to keep an eye on things while your daughter’s away. Your daughter Yvette.She must have told you.’