Authors: Andrea Frazer
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - P.I. Agency - Sherlock Holmes - British
|Andrea Frazer - Holmes and Garden 01 - The Curious Case of the Black Swan Song|
|Holmes and Garden Mysteries |
|Accent Press (2014)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - P.I. Agency - Sherlock Holmes - British|
Staff at The Black Swan
Bellamy, Berkeley – owner of the establishment, ill-tempered with a roving eye
Bellamy, Philipa (Pippa) – general dogsbody and granddaughter of the owner
Burke, Tony – chef who is rigidly held to an inferior menu by the owner
Byrd, William – barman with a bit of a shady past who suffers for his name
Jacques, Tiffany – waitress and chambermaid, also local bicycle
Carrington, Niles – a businessman, flying under false colours
Garden, John H. – a man in search of his real self
Harrison, Jane – in dispute over ownership of part of The Black Swan
Holmes, Sherman – a man with an important decision to make
Hughes, Josephine – house-hunting in the area
Jones, Geoffrey – a man whose wife won’t let him practise the bagpipes in his own home
Staywell, Casper – a previous guest who has an axe to grind
Members of the Local Ladies’ Guild
Crumpet, Agatha – a respectable lady with a shameful past
Fitch, Millicent – a bit of a middle-aged tart
Guest, Marion (Mabs) – partner of Lebs Piper
Maitland, Margery – head ‘honchette’ of the guild
Merrilees, Anna – has a bit of a crush on the hotel’s owner
Piper, Lesley (Lebs) – partner of Mabs Guest who knows Mabs has a crush on someone
Budge, Justin – local estate agent
Pryke, Martin – Jane Harrison’s solicitor
Streeter, Detective Inspector – of the local constabulary
Port, Detective Sergeant – of the local constabulary
Moriarty, Detective Constable – of the local constabulary
The black and white frontage of The Black Swan hotel faced north across the High towards the rest of the pretty village of Hamsley Black Cross, its hanging baskets perked up by an unexpectedly sunny day amidst all the rain and gloom to which the area had fallen victim in this ghastly summer. The flowers, now not in danger of drowning, turned their faces to this glorious source of light and heat, and nodded their heads contentedly in the warmth.
The Black Swan, however, boasted more than frontage. Its shape formed a modified horseshoe which wrapped itself around a large cobbled yard at the rear, backed by the row of buildings that had at one time been stables, but by the present day had been converted to staff accommodation or, at a pinch, emergency guest accommodation – at a slightly lower nightly rate, of course.
It had started its life centuries before as a simple coaching inn, this one-time incarnation confirmed by the large archway that led from front to back, to allow egress to the horses and carriages that had once been its daily fare. It had over the years, cannibalised all of the buildings that were attached to it, whether Tudor, plain Georgian, Gothic revival Victorian, or Edwardian, until it had filled the whole block of buildings at this end of the village.
The main frontage had almost too many black beams to be believable, some of which had been much more convincing when they had sported their original ancient oak colour. Tiny-paned mullion windows it had in abundance, as it did high Georgian sashes. It made a splendid sight on such a dazzling day.
Its tremendous oak front door stood open to banish the comparative gloom inside and welcome in the fresh warm air and sparkling sunlight, for today offered weather that simply could not be ignored in the middle of such a meteorologically disastrous summer.
Given that it had been built on what had been a major coaching route, its business had always been fairly brisk and, as new roads were built and other forms of transport devised, it maintained its popularity purely because of its pleasant architecture and beautiful setting. For Hamsley Black Cross is a very picturesque place and, being so close to the river Hams, brings the added custom of those who like messing about on the water.
The village worked hard to maintain its popularity, hosting a weekly Christmas market during November and December, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays throughout the year, an artists’ trail in the doldrums of January, and a flower festival in May. Anything else that would attract customers for local businesses was investigated and, in many cases, instigated by the ever-busy local ladies’ guild, who worked tirelessly for their community.
Thus, Hamsley Black Cross thrived as it had done since historical times, and so did its principal hotel, The Black Swan, a building that if it were possible sat smugly looking down on all it surveyed, knowing that it was superior.
Inside, it had much to charm a guest, from its beams that sprouted mysteriously out of walls but went nowhere, and its huge inglenook fireplaces in which one could sit with a drink and survey the rest of humanity gathered there that evening. There was a splendid selection of little runs of steps that led up and down, seemingly at random, to differing floor levels, matched only by the inconsistencies of ceiling heights.
Strange little dog-leg corridors, apparently leading nowhere, also led the unwary guest astray, and corridors unexpectedly grew incongruous alcoves, the original purpose of which it was hard to guess. On the whole it was a maze of a building.
The Black Swan’s swallowing of the adjoining buildings into its greater whole was evidenced by the number of staircases, mysterious little cubby-holes, and dead ends that littered the establishment. By the time the latter part of the twentieth century had had its wicked way with the building, with the installation of en-suite shower rooms and such like, the place was a veritable labyrinth for the unwary, and no handy signs were available to point the sadly astray, whether tourists or locals, towards their desired destinations.
Berkley Bellamy, the owner, liked things the way they were, and the frequent confusions of his guests gave him a great deal of silent glee.
Altogether, it offered twenty-eight en-suite rooms on two floors, and a further eight in the old stable block. Although business was not exactly booming in this dank and dismal summer, the place was well attended by local residents who appreciated its age, its charm, and its moderate prices for drinks and for meals, the latter somewhat uninspiring but undisputedly good value for money.
Today, The Black Swan would welcome three new guests, the first of whom was checking in as our story starts. Sherman Holmes had put his old-fashioned leather travelling case on the ground behind him as he carried out the formalities necessary to become an official guest, attended to by the establishment’s superficially genial mine-host, who smiled as he swiped yet another debit card through his terminal.
He may not have many guests just at the moment, but Berkeley Bellamy had high hopes for the rest of the year, today’s weather helping to confirm his predictions of a record summer to come. Although he was perfectly correct, the record wouldn’t be for sunshine but for rainfall, and he also had no intimation whatsoever of what the near future held for either him or his establishment; or perhaps, didn’t hold.
Taking the key to room number thirteen from a glassed cabinet behind the reception desk, he asked the new guest if he was superstitious, receiving the gratifying answer that it didn’t matter what number the room boasted, as long as it was warm and comfortable and, above all, quiet, as he had some deep thinking to do, and had booked this short break to allow him to do that in the relative peace and quiet that he believed the hotel provided.
Handing over the key with another welcoming and reassuring smile, Bellamy gave directions to the room as slowly as he thought necessary, given their complication. As previously mentioned, no signs were available to help guests, and he had no plans to change the status quo. ‘Go up this flight of stairs here, then turn left. When you get to the other end of the corridor, turn right, go up the four steps, left again, and your room is on the right,’ he intoned.
Holmes was already flustered, living in an apartment as he did, with no complications or incongruities in its layout. ‘Go up those stairs and turn … right …’
‘No,’ Bellamy corrected him. ‘Turn left.’
‘I meant right as in “OK”. Then down to the end of the corridor, you said, and go down some steps …’
As a young girl went to make her way across the reception area, Bellamy hailed her. If he waited for this silly old goat to get the instructions right, he’d be there all day. ‘Pippa! Come here and help this gentleman to room thirteen, would you? He has difficulty with directions.’
‘No, I don’t,’ Holmes interjected, for he felt quite affronted that a stranger should make such a sweeping judgement of him.
‘Yes, you do! There you go, Pippa. Treat him gently.’
The young lady addressed as Pippa hefted Holmes’ travelling case from the ground and called for him to follow her, as she bounded up the stairs with all the enthusiasm of youth. Abandoning his probably fruitless disagreement with Bellamy, Holmes did his best to follow this sprightly figure without losing her in the gloom of the interior of such an old building.
When Pippa returned to Reception, Bellamy curtly requested that she take over from him as he was ‘gasping’ for a fag, and needed caffeine to get him through to the evening. With a petulant little shrug, she slipped behind the desk and cast a glance towards the entrance, where another new guest was struggling through into the hall dragging a suitcase and wrestling with an unwieldy bag under one arm.
He introduced himself as Mr Jones and confirmed that he had booked in advance. Pippa took one look in the file marked ‘Advance Bookings’, which included any special requests, then booked him into room twelve; an activity she carried out with a dangerously mischievous twinkle in her eye. That’d show her grandfather, for such was the man who owned and ran the hotel. He’d not take her for granted again for a while.
Mr Jones, known to his friends as Geoffrey, was not such a dolt with directions as Mr Holmes had been, and trotted off with his burdens in complete confidence of finding his way without guidance. He had requested an isolated room when he wrote to book, as he had a very special reason for being without close neighbours on this little jaunt.
Following in his footsteps came a man wrestling with an enormous fluorescent lime-green suitcase, and wearing the most extraordinarily brightly coloured clothes. Pippa made no move to assist him, so taken up was she with thoughts of the little scenario she had just set up with room numbers.
‘Mr Garden,’ he puffed, as he finally reached the counter. ‘I booked a bargain break on the telephone about a fortnight ago.’ The words ‘bargain break’ nearly stuck in his throat, but he couldn’t afford to pay normal room rates for this place.
‘You’re in twenty-seven,’ Pippa informed him, handing over the key and eyeing his suitcase again. ‘It’s on the second floor,’ she concluded curtly, then deserted her post in search of her grandfather, as she’d had enough of this ‘covering on Reception’ business for today.
Garden glared at her retreating figure and gave his heavy case a look of despair. Where else did he think they’d put him on a bargain break, but on the second floor? Just for a tiny instant he regretted the whole wardrobe’s worth of clothes he had purchased especially for the next few days.
With a resigned face, he took a firm grip of the handles on his luggage and headed towards the nearest staircase, confident that he would have no trouble finding his room. After all, how difficult could it be to find a numbered room on the second floor? He had not stayed at The Black Swan before.
In his room, Sherman Holmes opened his travelling case and took out the carefully folded clothes to put away in the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. He was a tidy man who liked everything to be just so, and saw no reason to go about in wrinkled clothes just because he was away from home. As he hung two pairs of trousers in the wardrobe he was pleased to note that the room was also equipped with a trouser press. That was the ticket: keep a man feeling respectable while he was out of his normal environment.
Although he only lived a few miles away in Farlington Market, circumstances had forced him to come to a decision about his life, and he felt the only way he could really tackle the depth of thinking that was required was on totally neutral territory. Whatever decision he made, it was going to affect him to his dying day, so he had to give every aspect of it very careful consideration.
Holmes had recently been the beneficiary of a will belonging to a very distant relative that he didn’t even know he possessed, and he was now faced with deciding what to do with his new-found fortune. Should he continue to live as he had done all his adult life until now, and just invest it, or should he try to follow his dream? At the moment he was in a quandary of disquiet about whether he really wanted any change to the even tenor of his existence. But then, that was why he was here in the first place, wasn’t it?
As Mr Holmes came to the end of his unpacking, Mr Garden once more approached the reception desk, but from a completely different direction this time. He was rather red of face and out of breath because he had had, it seemed to him, taken a complete tour of the hotel, without, however, locating room twenty-seven. And now there was no one behind the desk to give him specific instructions.
As he stood there once more, Bellamy hove into view, refreshed by his fag and coffee break, and had to suppress a jolt of rage at the evidence that Pippa had deserted her post again without getting anyone to fill in for her. Breaking out into his most convivial smile, he gave Mr Garden precise instructions to locate his home for the next couple of nights, and said that where he had probably gone wrong was to take a left-hand turn on the first floor, then the steps up, instead of down, which would have confronted him with the wrong staircase to reach room twenty-seven.
Mr Garden didn’t argue. He didn’t have the puff for it. If he ever found the room and couldn’t get himself back to this part of the hotel again, he’d just have to bellow for help until someone came to his aid. It was either that or a regular trail of breadcrumbs as he went about his daily business.
Mr Holmes was just settling down on the bed for a relaxing little read as Mr Jones in room twelve opened the mysterious bag that he had carried under his arm on arrival. With love in his eyes, he extracted his prize possession – his bagpipes.
His wife had had enough of him scaring the cat, making the dog howl, and the neighbours complain. She was tired of their children asking why Daddy couldn’t do something normal like other fathers, and why he couldn’t play something that the dog didn’t know. In fact, she had forbidden him to play his pipes in the house ever again, and threatened, with complete sincerity, to leave him if he did.
He was now reduced to booking rooms for the occasional night here and there, and requesting that he may be placed well away from other guests, so that he didn’t lose his touch or his technique. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
Mr Garden was just contemplating the last flight of stairs to his room, taking a little rest after his previous fruitless search and this repeat performance, dragging his over-sized suitcase after him, when Mr Jones inflated his bagpipes and began to warm up.
The shock of such an unlikely and strident a sound made him jump, and he knocked into his suitcase, which was parked at the very top of the previous narrow flight he had just climbed. As it rocked, swayed, and finally fell, he sat down on the top step of the next flight and dropped his head into his hands. It was probably easier to find the Lost City of Gold than to locate room twenty-seven in this place.
At the moment when the first caterwauling scream of the pipes had sounded out, Mr Holmes’ body left his bed in a still vertical position, practically levitating, and his hands immediately went over his ears. What the devil was that insufferable row? It seemed to be coming from just the other side of the wall.
Grabbing his room key from the bedside cabinet, he rushed out into the corridor and began to bang furiously on the door of number twelve. A quiet room in which to contemplate a life-changing future, number thirteen was not, and he was incandescent with rage to find his immediate neighbour apparently strangling a cat.
It took Mr Garden another half an hour to locate his room, but he had taken a bit of a rest to eavesdrop on the furious argument that had broken out on the first floor landing; just as a way to pass the time while he got his breath back, of course.
Somewhat cheered by someone else’s misfortune in this establishment, he surveyed his room with a rather jaundiced eye when he eventually located it, noticing that it was right up in the eaves and that, if he wasn’t careful, he could go home with quite a collection of head injuries. There was, however, a magnificent pier glass over by the window, and his shallow character sent him straight to it to admire his new attire – his new persona, in fact.
His trousers were custard yellow, his shirt jade green, and his shoes were a sumptuous blood red. Gone were the office suit, shirt, and tie. Gone was the carefully slicked-down hair. This topmost of his adornments now stood in proud spikes and quiffs, marking him out as a trendy young man in search of the rest of his life, and his own true character. Whatever would Mother think if she could see him now? She’d probably burst into flames of self-combustion.
He would spend his time here working out a plan both to ‘come out of the closet’, and leave home, and a strategy for breaking these two devastating pieces of news to his mother, and it wasn’t going to be a doddle. He’d pandered enough to her whims to keep him tied to her apron strings since his father had left her, and had indulged in all her hypochondriac manifestations, but enough was enough.
He was approaching his thirtieth birthday, and if he didn’t do something positive to change the course of his life now, he would die in harness to her and his awful office job. Mother would just have to be told: there was nothing else for it.
He was resigned to the fact of resignation from his place of employment, for he was no longer willing to turn up for work looking like a middle-aged clerk. He wanted his attire to speak for who and what he was. He was also sure that he would, in the very near future, be looking for somewhere else to live, for, if his mother didn’t explode with rage at the destruction of her image of her little boy, she would go for hysterics, and still try to keep him by her side. He had a lot of decisions to make, and the only way for him to have the tranquillity to do that was to stay somewhere away from home, so that he could do his thinking uninterrupted.
Opening his enormous suitcase in the beautiful bright lime colour, he surveyed its contents with intense satisfaction. ‘Out’ were drab greys and unnoticeable navies from his life, and ‘in’ were stunning pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, and purples. No longer would he be a cypher, he would be a glorious butterfly who had just emerged from its protective cocoon. It would not be an easy transition, but he had girded such loins as he had to tackle his re-birth, and must now face up to the realities of what this involved.
As it was too early for lunch, he decided to go downstairs to the bar-cum-informal-restaurant where he could have a coffee and become more familiar with his surroundings. One never knew, but he just might meet somebody interesting engaged in exactly the same activity. Now it was time to try to retrace his steps to Reception, where he could get directions to his currently desired destination.
Good Lord, he couldn’t be outside his own room again, could he? He’d gone down a flight of stairs. On the other hand, he’d gone up quite a lot of little collections of steps and, he supposed, with irritation, that they could have delivered him right back to the place he’d started from. Time for another go at this. Maybe he’d have to make notes if it proved too difficult.
His second attempt brought him out on the first floor, but with no visible stairs down from it, and he found himself outside a small library provided for guests, where he sat down in a tub chair to re-orientate himself. He must still be at the same end of the building, even though he seemed to have traversed its whole length. Maybe if he took the corridor outside the library he might come across some stairs that actually descended.
In this he succeeded, but they still did not lead to the ground floor, and he found himself outside the door of what was too small to be a guest room, given how close the doors on either side of it were, but from which voices could be heard in earnest conversation. In the hope that he may be able to secure help in his quest he approached the door, but his hand froze before he could turn the handle.