You can now read the opening chapter of the second book in the series.
‘Happy Deathday To You’
Florrie watched him as he put the finishing touches to the cake. He was calling something out to her, and even though she couldn’t quite hear him, she recognised kindness in his voice. It was the flame that surprised her! She became quite frightened when she saw the lighted match in his hand, but after she saw him blow it out, she relaxed again. Although he had his back to her, she guessed that he was smiling as he stood, hands on hips, admiring his handiwork. She watched him as, with great care, he picked up the cake, then turned and walked towards her. Why was he singing ‘Happy Birthday’? It wasn’t her birthday! Still singing, he put the cake down in front of her and as she looked at the flickering flames on the candles, Florrie squealed.
I sat watching the second hand of the clock on the wall make its journey ever onwards. Time stops for no one, unless of course the battery runs down! The paperwork was finished and a pile of envelopes sat on the edge of my desk waiting expectantly for its descent into the darkness of the post-box. Local cats had been found and returned to their grateful owners and all the little old ladies of the town had been helped across the road. A good day’s work! Now all I had to look forward to was … badminton! A brand new sports bag crouched in the corner of the room, mocking me. Why, oh why had I agreed to join Simon for a game of badminton?
Simon Leavesly was the local solicitor; he had never married and was a man of my own age. Over the past few months we had become quite friendly, often meeting for the occasional drink after work to discuss the finer things in life – mainly beer and sport. Then, one fateful day, Simon had decided that he needed to get fitter, so he had suggested that instead of staring into the bottom of a beer glass – something I enjoy doing – we should run around a badminton court! I had said, ‘yes’! The word had made a run for it before I’d had the chance to close my mouth and it had announced itself in Simon’s ear. He had positively beamed. Now, the first game was to be this evening, unless a major crime should suddenly require my urgent attention. I crossed my fingers.
Alan Shepherd bounded into my office. The awful events of a few months ago had left their mark upon him. A sadness now lurked in the corner of his eyes, a sadness which, funnily enough, always disappeared whenever Cat Browning entered a room. She, like Shepherd, had been an unwilling pawn in that same chess game. However, it had changed her life for the better. She no longer worked for Bob Archer at The Cat and Fiddle, something which pleased me greatly. Archer was a nasty piece of work, of that I was sure. I couldn’t put my finger on it but whenever he entered the bar, I would see shadows rush to hide, which told me that some day in the future I would have the pleasurable task of snapping handcuffs around his fat little wrists. Cat’s decision to work for Simon Leavesly had definitely been the right one. On top of that it had also meant that she was no longer renting Archer’s grotty little cottage. In fact, she now lived at Elderton Manor with Shepherd, as his lodger. It was a good arrangement for both of them and I had high hopes of this ‘business’ relationship developing into something more meaningful.
“Anything needing my attention, lad?”
Shepherd sat himself in the chair opposite me and smiled mischievously.
“Nothing at all, Sir. You go and enjoy your game.”
“Hmm!” I could see that he was enjoying himself.
“You can hang onto my racket for a while if you want, Sir. I don’t really play anymore, I need something more … energetic.” The stifled laughter escaped. “The paramedics have been alerted, I suppose?”
“Are you suggesting that I am not in peak physical fitness, lad?”
“Well, you’re not quite as nimble as you were, Sir, are you? Look how you fell over when you came to my aid at Tony Wood’s farm.”
“It was dark!”
“It was the afternoon.”
“The rakes were hidden in the grass.”
“Well, you be careful, Sir.” Shepherd stood and struck a perfect serve with his invisible racket. “After all, a man of your age needs to take things easy.” He winked and was in the safety of the corridor before I had a chance to pick up a pen to throw after him. Damn! My reactions would need to be a lot sharper tonight.
At six-thirty I was looking in the changing room mirror at my white knees which were peeping out with some embarrassment from my white shorts; my white t-shirt was stretched tightly over my stomach. In fact, everything about me was white, except for my face which was a delicate cherry pink. Bending to tie my trainers had really taken it out of me!
“Ready, Mike?” Simon Leavesly opened the door and peered in. “You OK? You seem a bit flushed.”
“I’m fine! It’s just a bit warm in here.”
I picked up my racket and followed Simon out into the corridor. He was about three inches taller than me but of a more athletic build. His white t-shirt was baggy! As my footsteps padded along towards the badminton courts, I knew exactly what a condemned man must have felt like on his way to the gallows. This was it! No escape!
“Sir! Glad to have caught you.”
Shepherd’s voice echoed in the enclosed space and I turned around to give him a piece of my mind. How dare he invite himself along to watch my humiliation! The look on his face, however, stopped me in my tracks and the reprimand stuck in my throat.
“You’re needed, Sir. Now!”
“Simon, we’ll make it another time.” I shook Simon’s hand and retraced my steps to the car-park with Shepherd in pursuit.
“Well, lad? What is it?”
“A birthday cake, Sir. A birthday cake and an over-fed pig.”
© copyright Milly Reynolds 2011