Read A Dark and Stormy Night Online

Authors: Jeanne M. Dams

A Dark and Stormy Night

The Dorothy Martin Mysteries from Jeanne M. Dams
THE BODY IN THE TRANSEPT
TROUBLE IN THE TOWN HALL
HOLY TERROR IN THE HEBRIDES
MALICE IN MINIATURE
THE VICTIM IN VICTORIA STATION
KILLING CASSIDY
TO PERISH IN PENZANCE
SINS OUT OF SCHOOL
WINTER OF DISCONTENT
A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

A Dorothy Martin Mystery
Jeanne M. Dams
This first world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and in 2011 in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2010 by Jeanne M. Dams.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Dams, Jeanne M.
A dark and stormy night.
1. Martin, Dorothy (Fictitious character)–Fiction.
2. Women private investigators–England–Fiction.
3. Americans–England–Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title
813.5'4-dc22
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6983-8 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-315-1 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-007-4 (e-book)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
The photographer in this book, Ed Walinski, walked in more-or-less uninvited when I thought my cast of characters was complete. He quickly took on many of the endearing traits of the real photographer in my life, my husband (also Polish, also, oddly enough, named Ed).
My husband died, most unexpectedly, while this book was being written. I never had the chance to tell him I was ‘putting him in it'. I trust he knows now. So – Ed, my dearest love, this one's for you.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Dorothy Martin
, American, sixty-something, once widowed, now living in England and married to:
Alan Nesbit
, English, retired chief constable for county of Belleshire
Lynn and Tom Anderson
, American expats living in London, good friends of Dorothy and Alan
Jim and Joyce Moynihan
, American expats living in converted thirteenth-century abbey, which is still called Branston Abbey
Mr and Mrs Bates
, English, servants to the Moynihans
Ed Walinski
, American photographer and writer
Julie and Dave Harris
, American. Julie is Joyce Moynihan's sister
Michael Leonev (Mike Leonard)
, English, dancer
Laurence Upshawe
, English, former owner of Branston Abbey, retired physician
Paul Leatherbury
, English, the vicar of Branston village
Pat Heseltine
, English, female, a solicitor from Branston village and the village
ONE
A
nyone who has ever read a Traditional English Mystery ought to remember that a country house weekend can be, as Pogo used to say, fraught. I think I've read every TEM ever written, so I should have known better, but obviously my memory was taking a holiday that afternoon when Lynn called. And even weeks later, when we were nearly at our destination, my doubts were of another nature. ‘I don't know, Alan. I'm not so sure this was a good idea.'
My husband, fully occupied with negotiating the narrow, winding lanes of rural Kent, quirked an eyebrow without taking his eyes off the road.
‘I can't think what possessed me to say we'd go. We don't even
know
these people. And an old house is bound to be freezing cold in this awful weather, and there'll be stairs everywhere, and my knees aren't really healed yet, and anything could happen to the cats while we're gone, and . . .' Running out of objections, I heaved a histrionic sigh.
Alan is used to my moods. ‘We're committed now. And you'll enjoy yourself. You know you love old houses. Not to mention the fireworks for Bonfire Night – Guy Fawkes and all that, you know. Lynn wouldn't have wangled the invitation for us if she hadn't thought the people,
and
the house, were reliable.'
Our good friend Lynn Anderson, an American expat like me, had called from London a month or so ago. ‘Dorothy, my
dear
! Tom and I have been travelling and just heard about your operation. How
are
you! How are the knees?'
I'd flexed them cautiously, one at a time. ‘Better every day, and they'd be better still if the blasted rain would only stop. I wouldn't say I'd want to run a marathon just yet, but then I never did.' My titanium knees were three months old, and functioning better than I'd dared hope. ‘You wouldn't believe how spry I am, compared to when you saw me last. Speaking of which, when are we going to see the two of you again?'
‘That's why I called, actually. Tom and I have an Idea.'
I could hear the capital letter, even on the phone. ‘What sort of idea?' I asked cautiously. The last time I'd involved myself in one of the Andersons' Ideas, before Alan and I were married, I'd ended up in Scotland with a lot of quarrelsome people and a dead body.
‘How would you and Alan like to come with us for a country house weekend?'
I chuckled. ‘As in huntin' and shootin' and musical beds? I thought all that went out with P.G. Wodehouse. And haven't all the traditional country houses been turned into B-and-Bs these days, or given to the National Trust, or something?'
‘A lot of them have been, what with death duties and the cost of living and the impossibility of staffing those enormous places. But a few are still in private hands, mostly rich foreigners, and one of them happens to belong to some Americans we know, business associates of Tom's. We ran into them in Antibes last week. They bought this huge old pile from someone who had moved to Australia or some place like that, and they invited us to come for a weekend next month. It's to be over Bonfire Night, and they'll have fireworks and all. It's a good-sized house party, I gather, with some other people staying over, so the minute I heard about your surgery I thought you'd be needing some R and R and called the Moynihans to ask if I could bring two more. They said “the more the merrier”.'
I'd hemmed and hawed, but after Lynn assured me the house, Branston Abbey, was old and interesting, and that the present owners had installed central heating and an elevator, I'd said that Alan and I would go. But the rain, which had kept up for a solid month, had kept my knees aching and my spirits at low ebb.
The road straightened and widened a bit. Alan looked over at me and grinned. ‘This
was
your idea, you know.'
‘Actually it was Lynn's. I should have known better. How do we know we'll even like these people?'
‘Knees still hurting?' said Alan, responding to the real cause of my ill temper.
‘Oh, not much, just stiff and a bit cranky. Like me. Sorry, Alan. I know I pushed you into this, and I expect I'll have a wonderful time once we— great God in heaven, can that possibly be the house?' I pushed back the broad brim of my hat so I could see better.
Through a stand of trees that had lost some of their leaves, I could see, on a small rise, a remarkable building. From where we were it looked like a miniature castle combined with the Houses of Parliament and a touch of Her Majesty's Prison at Wormwood Scrubs.
Alan pulled the car over as far as he could to the side of the narrow lane and leaned over me, knocking my hat off, to look out my window. ‘Well,' he said at last. ‘Well.'
‘Lynn said it was interesting,' I said faintly.
Alan just shook his head and put the car in gear.
There was another fifteen minutes of twisting lane before we turned into the private drive. It wound for about a mile through a lovely autumn-shaded wood and across a pretty stone bridge, and finally ended up on the gravel forecourt of the house. Up close it wasn't quite so intimidating. For one thing, a lot of the details were hidden around the many odd angles.
Alan took our luggage out of the boot and stood frankly staring at the house. ‘I would say,' he said, ‘that this is a genuine abbey, late 1400s, that has been treated in rather cavalier fashion over the centuries. Looks like an encyclopedia of architectural styles, from the Late Perpendicular of the original abbey, to Tudor, through Georgian to a few bits of Victorian Gothick, with a hint of Brighton Pavilion thrown in for good measure.'
‘A bad case of architectural indigestion, in fact,' I replied rather sourly. ‘Reminds me of Brocklesby Hall.' The Hall, a big house near Sherebury, was built in early Victorian times in imitation of a number of styles. It is undeniably impressive, in a nightmarish sort of way.
‘Oh, no, no comparison at all. That monstrosity was built all of a piece. It was meant to look like that, God help us. This is organic – it grew, as the needs of the owners changed over the centuries. Good taste here, terrible taste there, but it's genuine. Do you know, Dorothy, I think I'm going to enjoy this weekend. If other amusements pall, we can always go on a treasure hunt for the best and worst bits. I'd swear that gargoyle up there is original fourteenth century, for example.'
‘You're showing off. Ten to one you looked it up before we started.' I craned my neck, but my interest in gargoyles is limited, and the wind was picking up. ‘I'm sure it's everything you say, but I'm cold and my hat's going to blow off. Can we admire the house from inside, do you think?'
At that moment a door opened and Lynn, effervescent as always, burst out with another woman, middle-aged and running a little, comfortably, to fat. She was dressed in a tweed skirt, a cashmere sweater, and pearls, and the fact that they were a little too new and a little too flawless marked her instantly as our American hostess.
Lynn performed introductions. ‘Dorothy, this is Joyce Moynihan. Joyce, Dorothy Martin and Alan Nesbitt.'
‘
So
glad to meet you,' said Joyce with a warm smile. ‘Lynn's told me all about you both. Dorothy, I love your hat. I wish I looked good in them. Now, dear, you mustn't try the front steps. They're one of our big-deal show pieces, but I'll bet this weather is playing hell with your knees. I had one of mine done a while back, so I know. Anyway, you must be freezing in this awful wind, so if you'll just come with me, there's an entrance to what used to be the servants' hall, and an elevator a few steps beyond. Not exactly the most elegant way to enter the house, but once you've had a nice hot bath you'll be better able to tackle stairs and we'll give you the grand tour. OK?'
Her accent was pure Midwest, speech I hadn't heard in quite a while, and her welcome glowed with that all-embracing cordiality that you get from the nicest Americans. ‘OK!' I said, my good spirits restored. I followed her and Lynn into the house, Alan bringing up the rear with our suitcases.
Joyce left us at the elevator. ‘I've been running around today like the proverbial chicken, and right now there's a crisis in the kitchen I have to deal with, so I hope you don't mind – Lynn knows the way. As soon as you're rested, come down and have some tea. No special time, just whenever you're ready. See you later.' With a cheerful wave, she was off at a trot in the direction of what I supposed was the kitchen.
‘OK, Lynn, you've been here a day already. Clue us in to the set-up,' I said the instant the elevator door closed. ‘Why is Madame dealing with kitchen crises? Don't tell me the cook has left in some sort of a huff.'
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