Murder in the Neighbourhood: A Diane Dimbleby Cozy Mystery (4 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Neighbourhood: A Diane Dimbleby Cozy Mystery
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“Look, there’s something else in the box sir,” says Webster.

Darrell pulls out a folded note. He opens it to read:
Find the nest in the oak tree. A treasure awaits you.

“Well, the way I see it, we have no other choice,” says Darrell. “Diane, you and I must head to Bardsey Island immediately to find this house, and hopefully the treasure!”

Darrell would be kidding himself if he believed his enthusiasm was driven as much or more by the excitement of a scavenger hunt, and to discover a rugged land he had not yet explored.

“But sir, are you sure it’s a good idea to bring…” whispers Webster, pointing his head towards Diane. “Do you really want to involve her aga—”

“I’d love to go!” cheers Diane. “So long as we can bring Rufus too!”

“Rufus comes too,” replies Darrell. “Let me just make a call to the Welsh police and fill them in.”

“That’s very courteous of you, Inspector,” says Diane.

 

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

 

Diane picks up the phone and dials Darrell’s number. They had both gone to their respective homes to pack up some belongings to bring on their journey to Bardsey Island.

“Hello Darrell? I’m just reading here about Bardsey Island. Apparently travel to the island can be quite treacherous and boat trips can be cancelled if the winds and sea currents are too strong.”

“Look Diane, I do not want you to feel uncomfortable or make you feel like you’re in danger. I’m quite capable of going on my own if you would prefer not to go. I will understand.”

“No, not at all! I would not miss this for the world. All I was going to say is that they recommend wrapping any bags you have in plastic to waterproof them, and to bring clothing for all types of weather. Oh, and I am going to make some sandwiches and pack some snacks, just in case food deliveries haven’t been made to the island recently.”

“I thought we might only stay one night. How long are you planning on staying?” Darrell laughs.

“Oh, that reminds me… when you pick me up, can we stop by Carys’ to pick up Rufus’ food and belongings? Do you still have access to the home?”

“Of course! See you soon.”

Diane takes out a box of cellophane and starts to wrap her backpack. Before ripping the plastic, she shakes her head at herself.
You’re just being silly Diane.
She decides to put some of the bag’s contents – her camera in particular – in plastic bags instead. The backpack is made of a waterproof material in any case.

She opens the closet and takes out her insulated rain jacket, an article of clothing she’s worn many times on hikes with Albert and on solo ramblings.

“Rufus,” she calls. “I have an extra rain jacket if you’d like it.”

Rufus runs up to her feet. She wraps him in the windbreaker, prompting the dog to give her a confused look.

“It’s a tad too big, isn’t it boy?” giggles Diane. “You can hide under my coat if the weather becomes too wild.”

When Darrell arrives, he and Diane slowly walk up to Carys’ home. Diane intentionally leaves Rufus at hers, sensing it would simply be too cruel to bring him to his former home without his owner – his mum – being there.

Darrell inserts a key into the front door and they enter. Diane cautiously walks towards the kitchen and stops at the entryway to the living room, half expecting to see Carys. The floor is bare of any trace that her friend had been lying there, dead, just yesterday.

In the kitchen, Diane finds Rufus’ bag of food, bowl and one of his favourite bones. Her eyes are drawn to a small bookcase standing next to the kitchen table. One book stands out among the collection of cookbooks:
Bardsey Island Legends.
Diane swipes it from the shelf and heads back to the front door.

Seeing Darrell is not there waiting for her in the foyer, Diane quietly sets the things down and turns towards the staircase. Creeping up the first step and then the second, she thinks to herself,
Do I really want to see where Carys was killed?

“Ready to go Diane?” Darrell calls.

Diane jumps, nearly tripping over the next step. She turns slowly to see Darrell standing at the bottom of the stairs.

“Yes,” says Diane meekly, thinking,
at least he doesn’t look cross.

Darrell picks up the bag of food and the other items, eyeing the book curiously.

Standing outside while Darrell locks up, Diane hears what sounds like rummaging in one of Carys’ bushes. She takes a few steps closer to realize it is Richard trying to escape the clutches of the branches and leaves.

“Richard! What are you doing here?” screams Diane.

Richard falls out of the bush and quickly stands up, his face a deep shade of red.

“Calm down Diane,” says Darrell evenly. “Richard, is there something I can help you with?”

“No… no… no,” says Richard. “Nobody can help!”

“Did you lose something chap?” Darrell tries again.

“No, I just wanted to…” says Richard, his voice trailing off.

“Sorry?” says Darrell, trying not to agitate the man.

“I just wanted to come round one last time… you know… to say goodbye like.”

“I can understand that Richard,” says the inspector. “Why don’t you take all the time you need in the garden here. But don’t go inside, okay? It’s still a crime scene.”

Richard nods his head. He goes to the bench and sits down, then closes his eyes, oblivious to Darrell and Diane still standing there.

“Don’t they say that certain killers like to return to the scene of the crime?” asks Diane as they walk back to her house. “And are you sure you can trust him not to go inside… and fiddle with some evidence?”

“Diane, he gave me his key to the house yesterday. Plus we’ve installed a few CCTV cameras inside the home just in case anybody goes in… for suspicious purposes.”

Diane realizes she’s letting her emotions get too involved with this case. It’s understandable considering who the murder victim is, but if she wants to be of some assistance to find out who killed Carys Jones, she needs to try and remain objective. That being said, Richard cannot necessarily be ruled out as a suspect.

Diane gathers her gear and Rufus,  and they jump in Darrell’s Range Rover. He starts the engine and therefore their three-hour drive to Porth Meudwy to catch the ferry to Bardsey Island.

Opening up the book she found at Carys’, Diane reads silently for several minutes.

“Wow, it looks like we’re heading to a magical and sacred place,” says Diane. “This book says Bardsey Island is the resting place for 20,000 Saints, not to mention King Arthur and Merlin the Magician!”

“Is that so?” says Darrell playfully.

“And it was a place of pilgrimage too. Apparently three treks to Bardsey equalled one to Rome!”

Completely serious this time, Darrell says, “What legends and mysteries are waiting for us there?”

Chapter 4

 

Darrell had parked his Range Rover close to the Porth Meudwy cove. He and Diane are a tad early for the crossing to Bardsey Island. There is no scheduled trip today, but the Welsh police arranged for Old Cai Jernigan to take them across. The captain agreed so long as he could go to his choir practice first – he hated missing his weekly session of a capella song.

To pass the time, Diane, Rufus and Darrell have plenty to keep their eyes occupied. Historic farm buildings easily entice them to imagine the hardships and pleasures of days gone by. They walk up a hill to see a stunning view of the cove and sea cliffs. A crab fisherman is slowly motoring towards the dock.

Rufus suddenly pulls his leash and swiftly runs out of sight. Diane runs after him with Darrell leisurely following behind. As Diane nears, she can hear Rufus’ unrelenting barking – it has a very distressing tone. The wind blows her grey locks over her eyes, making her ears more in tune with the constant
thump-thump-thump
sound coming from the same direction as Rufus’ cries.

She moves her hair out of her eyes and screams. Darrell runs up to keep Diane from planting her face in the field. He follows Diane’s horrified eyes to see a wooden frame. Something is hanging from its top beam and banging against the upright to the beat of the sharp winds. That
something
… is it human?

“Rufus! Come here!” Diane yells.

But Rufus is unrelenting and refuses to leave his post next to the scaffold. Diane and Darrell walk slowly towards the dog and the source of his agitation. Diane stares at the back of the black cloak the hanging something - or
someone
- is wearing. She wills herself to take a look and find out what is swinging from these makeshift gallows. She mutters under her breath –
1-2-3 –
and hops to get in front of the mystery being.


AAAAaaaaaaaaggggghhhh!

“What is it Diane?” says Darrell, rushing to stand beside her.

They both gaze at what is clearly a scarecrow with a wooden face painted to resemble that of a coyote with vicious, sharp teeth. Darrell and Diane burst out laughing, causing Rufus to bark even louder.

“Silly that I screamed,” Diane giggles. “I can see why this figure made you alarmed, dear Rufus.”

“Gallows Field!” shouts a voice from behind.

Diane jumps. She and Darrell turn around to see a man with a thick grey beard. The wrinkles under his eyes surely have plenty of stories to tell.

“Fed up I am of those kids ditching school and doing things like this! They’re going to scare the tourists away,” continues the strange man.

“You mentioned Gallows Field…” says Diane.

“Aye, there is a place not too far from here that was called Gallows Field a long time ago. A head monk from Bardsey would see to it that the murderers and robbers would meet their maker being hung there. I suppose these rascals are learning something from their school books if they’re recreating a local legend….”

The man leans on his cane and looks at the discomfort in Diane’s face. “Sorry, we don’t need to be talking about this today. We’ll be leaving for Bardsey now, in a minute. I just need to fuel up.”

 

“Oh, are you the captain of the boat to Bardsey Island?” asks Darrell.

“Aye, the name’s Cai Jernigan,” he says, turning around to walk to the dock. Despite the limp in his right leg, Darrell and Diane have to pick up their pace to keep up with the local boatman.

On board, Diane can still hear the
thump-thump-thump
of the faux-hanged man. Just for a moment, she allows herself to imagine that it is Carys’ killer who is hanging from the noose. She quickly forces the macabre thought from her mind as the boat enters the choppy waves. Both she and Rufus howl in delight at the fun of the ‘water rollercoaster ride.’

“And this is a tidy day compared to most,” says Captain Cai of the conditions.

“Have you been taking people to the island for many years?” asks Darrell.

“Aye, a tidy spell,” says the captain. Over the roar of the engine and the waves, Diane and Darrell can faintly hear him start to sing:
Mi sydd fachgen ieuanc ffôl. Yn byw yn ôl fy ffansi…

After Rufus called their attention to two seals swimming near the boat, they arrive at Bardsey Island. Captain Cai, much spryer than he appears, unloads their overnight bags and even lifts Diane to shore.

Anticipating that Diane and Darrell are probably all set for a late lunch, the captain walks them up to a working farm and knocks on the farmhouse door.

“Deris,
S’mae
!” exclaims Cai to the older woman opening the door.


S’mae
!” she says, happy to see her long-time friend.

The captain introduces them to Deris Williams who helps run the farm with her husband and son, and who still takes in weary travellers in need of some sustenance. She’s lived all of her 81 years on the island.

Darrell and Diane say their goodbyes and thank the captain, who reminds them that he’ll come back for them this time tomorrow. Although anxious to find the house and the treasure Carys’ safety deposit box is leading them to, the two sleuths are more than happy to sit at Mrs. Williams’ table and enjoy some of her hearty
cawl
and homemade biscuits. It’s also an excellent opportunity to get some answers from a local. Mrs. Williams even facilitates the line of questioning.

“What brings you to Bardsey Island?” she asks.

“I’m sorry to say, we’re investigating the death of Carys Jones,” says Diane. “Did you know her?”

“God bless her,” says Mrs. Williams’ solemnly.

“So you knew her then?” asks Darrell.

“Aye. Not well mind you. She was a quiet character, but always pleasant.”

Mrs. Williams goes on to say that Carys owned a nice house over the hill that overlooks the sea and the beach below.

“I don’t know why, but people call it
The Oak Tree House.
I
atto
laugh the first time I heard it because my name, Deris, means oak tree… that’s what my Nain taught me anyhow.”

“Deris is a lovely name,” comments Diane. “So
The Oak Tree House,
they call it.”

Diane looks knowingly at Darrell, each remembering the clue – about the nest in the oak tree – that was also found in the safety deposit box.

“Does anybody live in the house now, Mrs. Williams?” Darrell asks.

“No, I dare say not. There were some mainlanders renting it – two artists they said they were. But it’s been empty ever since last Autumn, I think… my memory is not as good as it once was.”

 

“I can relate!” laughs Diane. “Our dear, young Darrell here has not been hit with such afflictions… yet.”

“Thanks for your time and for a delicious lunch, Mrs. Williams. We must be off,” Darrell says.

“Come give us a
cwtch
,” says Mrs. Williams, running up to each of them to give them a warm hug. “Oh, I have a treat for Rufus – I’ll find it sharpish!” The farmer runs into the pantry and comes out carrying a large bone. “It’s from one of our cattle, and there’s still a little meat on there for
youer
Rufus!” she muses.

After promising they would be back if they were “sinking for some tea,” Darrell and Diane set out in the direction Mrs. Williams had pointed out – the way to
The Oak Tree House.
Rufus eventually follows, after taking some time to gnaw on his new goody.

Over the hill, they see a single house overlooking the water below. The view is stunning:  the green still rich in the surrounding fields, a blue sky with generous white clouds, a lively sea crashing into the island’s rocks and a series of kittiwakes and razorbills in flight. Off in the distance, Diane even sees the lighthouse and perhaps, just perhaps, a trace of ancient ruins. She can see why Carys was attracted to this isolated paradise, although she herself would perhaps get lonely after a time – especially during this time of year. Apple Mews, with its “overly concerned” neighbours, must have been a culture shock to Carys at first.

They find
The Oak Tree House
closed and secured as any rental property on the island would be during the non-tourist season. Luckily, along with the deed and the note, there was also a set of keys they found in the safety deposit box. Darrell takes the keys out of his pocket and for a half-second has to hope that these keys do in fact belong to Carys’ former home.

The first key Darrell tries does not fit in the keyhole, but the second does and even turns to let them into the house. Diane almost gasps upon walking into the property’s impressive foyer at the bottom of a grand staircase. Carys had lived in a very nice home in Apple Mews, but Diane had never imagined that her friend owned such a luxurious – or, as the Welsh say, tidy! – place.

The inspector and Diane split up, with Rufus choosing to stay in the foyer to concentrate on his bone. Diane enters the sitting room, half expecting to see Carys’ knitting projects or a stack of leaflets seeking donations and volunteers for the homeless. Instead, Diane finds herself on a historical home tour, except there are no cordons stopping her from touching the stone surround of the fireplace, or from lifting the white sheets off the leather armchairs and hand-carved coffee table.

As they tour room to room, Diane and Darrell get the sense that everything is in its proper place; and, aside from the sheets covering all of the furniture, the property appears just like a picture-perfect display home would in a new residential development.

Naturally, when Carys moved, she would have taken all her belongings, but the house feels so unoccupied, so unlived in, that every time Darrell opens a drawer or feels at the top of a bookcase nothing is to be found. He is starting to wonder whether this trip may have been a waste of time. Maybe Carys’ note is not meant to be interpreted as a clue.

Still, Darrell cannot shake the feeling that when she wrote the note -
Find the nest in the oak tree. A treasure awaits you -
she meant for someone on the right side of the law, such as himself, to be the recipient, and to direct them to
something
crucial. A something, he suspects, that Carys did not want the killer to find.

Still, Darrell hasn’t noticed an oak tree or any trees surrounding the house. Since the home is nicknamed
The Oak Tree House
, perhaps the “nest” is hiding somewhere inside the property. 

In one of the bedrooms upstairs, Darrell climbs the ladder to the loft. His children, Jeremy and Chloe, would love sleeping up here, he thinks. He looks under the bed and knocks on the walls to hear if he can detect any secret passageways.
You’ve watched too many adventure movies with the kids, Darrell.

Darrell looks up to see a cord hanging from the ceiling. He pulls on it gently, and then uses a little more muscle, to slowly releases a ladder which presumably leads to an attic. Darrell takes out his torch and holds it in his mouth as he climbs up into the highest section of the home.

Inside the attic Darrell can stand, but only in a hunched-back position. He shines the torch around the room and finds it, disappointingly, uncluttered. Still, there are a few boxes in the middle of the room. He puts on some gloves and gets to work searching for anything “nest-like” or that may have a connection to Carys Jones.

Yet all Darrell finds in the boxes are Christmas ornaments, some sherry glasses and some old vinyl records. He searches through each item carefully looking for bits of paper that might be tucked inside, even for clues hidden among the song titles. But nothing seems to be linked to a nest or treasure or to Carys Jones.

He switches off his torch and turns to head back towards the light coming from the bedroom from whence he came. As he’s about to climb down the ladder, Darrell stops - he hears movement behind him.

Darrell wonders if it is a squirrel, though it sounds too loud to be. Perhaps it is a rat or a gull, or even a fox. Darrell knows foxes are not normally a threat to humans, but who knows how one might react if it feels like it’s being backed into a corner of a relatively small space?

Darrell’s curiosity gets the better of him and he walks, quietly, towards the sound.

When he feels like he’s just close enough, he quickly turns on his torch. What he sees makes him jolt back and grip his chest – and it makes the object in his sights shriek!

“Diane, what are you doing up here?!?!”

“Darrell, you startled me!”

“I could say the same thing about you. What are you doing up here roaming around in the dark?”

“I was trying to find the light switch….”

They both burst out into laughter, relieved they came across each other and not something more… sinister.

“How did you get up here anyway?”

“I climbed a ladder from the master bedroom,” explains Diane.

“Okay, I’ll meet you down there. I’ve looked at everything up here, and there’s no sign of a nest or treasure.”

BOOK: Murder in the Neighbourhood: A Diane Dimbleby Cozy Mystery
10.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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