Closer to Death in a Garden (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 10)

BOOK: Closer to Death in a Garden (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 10)
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Closer to Death in a Garden

Cecilia Peartree

Kindle edition

Copyright Cecilia Peartree 2015

All rights reserved

 

CONTENTS

 

Chapter 1 - A Near Thing

Chapter 2 - How does your garden grow?

Chapter 3 - Nothing to see here...

Chapter 4 - Witness

Chapter 5 - Alpaca Central

Chapter 6 - An Unnecessary Rescue

Chapter 7 - The mystery deepens

Chapter 8 - Following up on the alpacas

Chapter 9 - Grilled

Chapter 10 - Curiosity

Chapter 11 - In Captivity

Chapter 12 - Forming a sub-committee

Chapter 13 - The wrong side of the table

Chapter 14 - Hell to pay

Chapter 15 - Questions and answers

Chapter 16 - Orphans of the storm

Chapter 17 - Failure

Chapter 18 - Identity crisis

Chapter 19 - Baffled, of Pitkirtly

Chapter 20 - Is there an artist in the house?

Chapter 21 - Two heads good, six heads better

Chapter 22 - Fishy undertones

Chapter 23 – Normal

Chapter 24 - On a mission again

Chapter 25 - Damage limitation

Chapter 26 - Expert witness

Chapter 27 - Online and offline

Chapter 28 - The Man with the Maps

Chapter 29 - In Conference

Chapter 30 - On the beach

Chapter 31 - Amaryllis and her imagination

Chapter 32 - A bit late for a school night

Chapter 33 - Checking in

Chapter 34 - Walking with alpacas

 

Chapter 1 A Near Thing

 

‘Llama,’ said Dave as they passed the speed limit sign. He frowned. ‘Or maybe it’s an alpaca. I’ve not been sure of the difference between those wee devils. If there is one.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Jemima, partly because she didn’t know the difference either, but partly as a comment on modern life, people who let their llamas wander about the streets in broad daylight, and the fact that Dave had stamped on the brakes so hard that she had very nearly bumped her head on the windscreen.

They both stared straight ahead as the llama or alpaca walked across the road in a stately fashion, its expression somehow making it look comical and yet dignified at the same time.

‘Do you think there are any more of them?’ said Jemima once it had disappeared into the woods at the far side.

‘Maybe,’ said Dave. ‘I don’t know if they live in herds or what.’

They had just started moving again, more cautiously than they were used to, when a woman ran out of an entrance near where the llama had emerged, and waved at them.

‘This is going to sound like a very silly question,’ she said without preamble after Dave had stopped the car and Jemima had wound down the window at her side, ‘but have you seen an alpaca by any chance?’

She had a posh accent and was wearing pearls and what could be a cashmere cardigan, but Jemima wasn’t going to hold either of these things against her.

‘Yes, we have,’ she told the woman. ‘It crossed the road and went into the woods over there... Is it yours?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the woman fiercely. ‘Thank you so much. I don’t suppose...’ She peered into the car interior as if looking for something, and then drew back and straightened. ‘No, I’d better let you get on. Thank you again for your help.’

‘I think she wanted us to go and chase the llama with her,’ said Jemima as they moved on again.

Dave laughed. ‘Alpaca, you mean. Fat lot of use we’d be.’

‘We could have stood somewhere and stopped it if it ran in our direction,’ said Jemima. ‘But I suppose it might have knocked us down – I couldn’t put up with that, not with my hip.’

They drove on, picking up a bit of speed.

‘Never mind,’ said Dave. ‘At least we know what it was now.’

‘Don’t go too much faster, Dave,’ said Jemima. It was a regular refrain of hers. ‘The garden centre’s just along here on the right.’

‘It must be next-door to the alpaca place,’ said Dave. For once he seemed to be concentrated grimly on his driving.

‘We don’t know if there’s an alpaca place,’ said Jemima. ‘Maybe that woman was just keeping one of them as a pet.’

Dave grunted. He evidently wasn’t in the mood for a debate about it –which wasn’t like him. On a good day he could spend an hour or more discussing the merits of two different kinds of beer, or the best food items to leave out for a hedgehog, or whether Fiat Panda drivers were worse than delivery company employees or not.

‘We could do this another time,’ Jemima suggested. It wasn’t going to be much fun going round the garden centre if he had already reverted to monosyllables.

‘No – if you want some of those special fuchsias I’ve heard this is the best place to get them.’

Dave parked on the gravel and they walked round the buildings to the outdoor display area.

There was a man arranging plant containers on a stand. He gave them a hard look.

‘We don’t open till ten,’ he told them, glancing at his watch. ‘How did you get in?’

‘Well, we didn’t climb over the gate,’ said Dave grumpily. ‘It was wide open.’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ said the man. He stood up, strode over to the gateway and slammed the gate shut. ‘I’ve told her time and time again...’

‘Now we’re trapped inside,’ said Jemima.

He glared at her. ‘I’m not opening it again until ten. Take it or leave it.’

‘I suppose we’ll just have to take it then,’ said Dave. He rubbed at his chest and frowned.

‘Is your vest itchy?’ said Jemima.

‘No, of course not! I’m fine... Now we’re here, let’s have a look at those famous fuchsias.’

‘Will that be all right?’ said Jemima, giving the man – was he the owner of the place? – a sidelong glance.

‘It’ll just have to be,’ said Dave. ‘We’ve come for those fuchsias and we’re going to get some, whether he likes it or not.’

He raised his voice slightly for the last phrase.

Jemima wished they hadn’t come here. And certainly not so early in the day. Dave’s pills obviously weren’t working yet, and now they would have to stay for longer than they wanted. She turned back towards the man, who was busy straightening a row of greenhouse staging. She was surprised to be able to remember the right term for it. Her father had been a gardener, and she must have got her interest in it from him. She could remember going with him to the big house where he had once worked, before it was turned into retirement flats that was, and peeping into the greenhouse to see the peaches growing in there.

‘Is there a café?’ she enquired.

‘You can get drinks from the machine inside – when we open – and ice-creams in the freezer,’ he said, not even pausing in what he was doing. This century’s idea of customer service seemed to be a closed book to him. But then, maybe he hadn’t always run a garden centre and had to serve the general public. Maybe he was an out of work stockbroker who had lost everything in the crash. Or a lawyer who had had to go to prison for defrauding his clients. Jemima liked that idea. He looked more like a lawyer than a gardener to her.

‘Is this them over here?’ said Dave. He had wandered over to a row of patio plants that were set along one wall of the building, shaded a little by a green canopy.

‘Don’t you go moving any of these,’ said the lawyer or stockbroker or garden centre manager. ‘They’re valuable plants. The containers cost fifty pounds each too. They’re made of real ceramics, not plastic.’

‘I wasn’t going to move them,’ said Dave with dignity, heading back in Jemima’s direction again.

There was a faint tapping on a window.

‘What was that?’ said Jemima, glancing round. The area they had come into was overlooked by windows on two sides. At first she couldn’t see where the tapping was coming from. Then a window opened just behind her.

‘Hello there!’ said a woman’s voice. ‘You’re bright and early today, aren’t you?’

Jemima stared, trying to remember where she had seen her before. The young woman had pale hair and pale skin – were her eyes pale as well? They were a sort of grey colour, which in a romantic novel might have been described as silver. Jemima, although she sometimes read romantic novels to pass the time while Dave was watching darts on television, had never quite believed that someone’s eyes could really be silver. But it was probably just one of those turns of phrase that writers used to make things seem more dramatic.

‘You’re Mrs Douglas, aren’t you?’ said the woman with a smile. ‘Keith’s told me a lot about you.’

‘It’s bound to be all bad, no doubt,’ said Jemima. ‘Are you – Ashley?’

She had suddenly recalled that Keith Burnet’s girl-friend had a name that sounded the way she looked. They did call that hair colour ash-blonde sometimes, after all.

‘Yes, that’s me,’ said the woman. She was hardly more than a girl, in fact. She still had that hopeful look about her, as if she thought there might be something nice round the next corner. Now she added, ‘You can come in and have a seat if you like. Until we open. It isn’t long now though.’

‘Maybe that would be nice,’ said Jemima. She turned to speak to Dave, only to find he wasn’t where she had thought he would be. In fact, when she located him, it turned out he wasn’t walking towards her any more, or standing up. He was slumped against a section of staging, causing it to wobble alarmingly, and he seemed to be gasping for breath. ‘Dave!’

‘Oh, dear!’ exclaimed Ashley. ‘I don’t think he’s very well.’

Jemima rushed towards him, managing a better turn of speed than she thought she had in her. ‘Dave! Did you take your blood pressure pills this morning?’

‘Doesn’t – work – that way,’ said Dave, speaking as if he had to force the words out. He had gone quite grey in the face, and was clutching his left arm tightly.

‘Let’s not argue about it just now,’ said Jemima firmly. ‘I’d better call an ambulance.’

‘No – no hospital!’ he gasped.

He was just being silly, of course. Anybody could see he needed to be rushed away as quickly as possible, whether there was a tailback on the motorway or not. Jemima fished her mobile phone out of her bag and tried to use it while keeping her fingers crossed. It didn’t work well, and she didn’t even protest when Ashley appeared at her side, took the phone and pressed the buttons for her. She made a call to the emergency number and then she said she might as well call the local doctor’s surgery too, if that was all right. And maybe Keith Burnet in case they needed a police escort or anything.

Just as well Jemima had learned from other people’s experience always to keep the phone charged up and with her.

After Ashley had finished the calls, she went and got a folding lounger from the furniture section and they helped Dave to lie down on it. Jemima wasn’t sure if they should take off his jacket to make him more comfortable, but she knew he didn’t like to be seen without it in public. There was certainly no point in even attempting to loosen any of his clothing. If anything could make him worse, that would do it.

‘What’s going on here then?’ snapped the man Jemima was now even more convinced must have been a lawyer in a previous existence.

‘Oh, Mr Anderson,’ said Ashley. ‘We’ve had to call an ambulance. Mr Douglas has been taken ill.’

‘Oh, really?’ said Mr Anderson scornfully. ‘He wasn’t just after a free trial of my best range of furniture?’

If Jemima hadn’t felt so shaky she would have picked up one of the genuine ceramic containers and brained him with it. As it was she said to him, in quite a restrained way, ‘Can’t you see he isn’t well?’

Mr Anderson peered at Dave. ‘He does look a bit under the weather. Oh well, what is it they say? You’re closer to death in a garden than anywhere else on earth?’

‘Nearer to God,’ said Jemima through clenched teeth.

‘God, death, what’s the difference?’ said Mr Anderson.

Ashley intervened, possibly sensing an impending murder. ‘Mr Anderson, could you maybe go out to the front to make sure the doctor doesn’t go right past the entrance? If that’s all right. It’d be a lot of help.’

‘You’re nearer to God in a garden,’ Jemima shouted after him as he sauntered round the corner of the building, unlatching the gate in a leisurely manner.

‘Mrs Douglas – I think he’s trying to say something,’ said Ashley urgently.

They hurried over to Dave’s lounger. He was struggling to sit up. ‘Don’t – abide with me... Just don’t.’

Jemima laughed out loud. Ashley stared at her.

‘What does he mean? Doesn’t he want you to stay with him?’

‘No, it isn’t that,’ said Jemima. ‘He doesn’t want Abide with Me at his funeral. It’s a joke,’ she added hastily, seeing Ashley’s expression of horror.

Dave relaxed back and gave them a thumbs-up sign.

It was only minutes afterwards that a doctor arrived from the practice Jemima and Dave were signed up with. Jemima hadn’t been to see them for years, of course, despite a dodgy hip and an irritating cough when it rained. Dave only kept going there to make sure he still got his blood pressure tablets. He said he could take or leave the lecture on diet, alcohol and exercise that came with the prescriptions.

The doctor was very casual. ‘Mild heart attack, I’m guessing, Mrs Douglas,’ he said after taking Dave’s pulse and blood pressure. ‘There should be an ambulance on its way any minute now. We’ll get him checked out thoroughly. May need to fine-tune his medication somewhat. No need to worry.’

Guessing? No need to worry? Jemima felt herself going very red in the face. Maybe she was in line for a heart attack too at this rate.

‘Do you want to sit down, Mrs Douglas?’ said Ashley.

The doctor stared at Jemima and smiled cheerfully. ‘Mrs Douglas doesn’t need to sit down,’ he said. ‘She’ll still be standing when the rest of us are long gone. They make them tough in these parts.’

Jemima wasn’t too sure about not needing to sit down. She wished the ambulance would arrive, although she knew from experience it could take a while, even hours. Why didn’t the doctor do something instead of just standing there making silly comments? Not that she expected him to carry out emergency heart surgery in the middle of the garden centre outdoor display area, but there must be something...

She heard a siren, at first faintly in the distance and then much closer.

‘Here they are,’ said Mr Anderson, opening up the gate at both sides so that it was wide enough for a vehicle to get through.

Jemima didn’t know whether to be alarmed by the prompt appearance of the ambulance or relieved. What on earth had Ashley said to them to get this kind of response?

‘I phoned Keith as well when the doctor was here,’ said Ashley at that moment, appearing by Jemima’s side. ‘He said he’d hurry it along.’

BOOK: Closer to Death in a Garden (Pitkirtly Mysteries Book 10)
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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