Authors: Roger Silverwood
Tags: #Fiction, #Traditional British, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Her face burning, Tessa had extricated herself from the shop under the cold stare of the other woman. Not very sharp, she reflected ruefully, to have got off on the wrong foot with the locals already.
Miserably she had walked back to the empty house, full of uncongenial tasks that she really ought to tackle. It was then she realised she was still clutching the card Hannah Guest had given her. Marnie Evans’ workshop was on up the valley, she had said, about ten minutes. On an impulse, she decided to wake Boris up and go.
The card had a line-sketch of the cottage, and it wasn’t hard to find, with its steeply pitched roof, thick white-washed walls and little workshop attached. Marnie Evans with her snub nose and her sunny smile greeted her as if they had known one another all their lives.
The spare interior of the cottage was one room open to the rafters, with kitchen and bathroom tacked on at the back. There was a bed covered with brightly-coloured cushions and pushed against the wall to act as a sofa, and a huge pine table in the middle which, on the evidence of the clutter on its surface, served as drawing board, office and food preparation area as well a social centre.
Over a cup of coffee, Tessa had got round to telling her of the recent bruising encounter.
`Bloody woman,’ Marnie said dispassionately. ‘I should never have let her have any of my stuff— she charges an arm and a leg in commission and barely sells a thing. But she’s so unpleasant that everyone agrees to what she wants so as to get away from her sooner. And her sister’s arguably worse. The Unholy Trinity, I call that lot — Mother, Daughter and Hannah Guest. Only the daughter, Bronwen, is the one who’s invisible. You never seem to see her in the shop.’
Cheered in spite of herself, Tessa laughed. ‘I like it. But what worries me is that they’re going to tell everyone in Llanfeddin valley that I’m a stuck-up cow and then they’ll all hate me. But perhaps that’s paranoid.’
Marnie looked back at her, her smoky-blue eyes sardonic. `Do you want the good news or the bad news first?’
Warily, Tessa asked for the good news.
`The good news is that what they say won’t make any difference. The bad news is that they weren’t going to like you anyway. Oh —’ as Tessa looked shocked — ‘don’t take it to heart. They don’t like anyone who moves in. I’m Welsh and I speak Welsh, but they don’t like me — which, unless it’s a problem of personal freshness that no one’s liked to mention, is because I come from Cardiff and spent a few years in London.’
`Mrs Guest said “London” as if she were swearing,’ Tessa said gloomily. ‘How did you come to live here anyway?’
`Ah.’ Marnie looked down into her mug of coffee. ‘Well, why does any girl do something totally bloody stupid?’
`Ah,’ Tessa said in her turn. ‘Who is he?’
`Was he, as far as I’m concerned.’ Marnie’s short laugh did nothing to conceal her hurt. ‘A lovely young doctor, he was. Paul Arkwright — he’s a rugby lad with the soul of a poet. We belonged to the same amateur dramatic group in London, and stepped out together for a bit. Then when he got his job at the hospital here it seemed a good idea to both of us for me to return to my Welsh roots as well.’
She paused, and Tessa prompted her gently. ‘But it wasn’t?’
Marnie sighed. ‘Oh, it was brilliant to start with. It was so brilliant my mother had started marinating the currants for the wedding cake. Then he met Willow.’ There was acid in her voice as she said the name.
Marnie laughed again, shortly. ‘Willow Lampton. Nurse at the hospital, very beautiful, very cold, and the biggest man-eater in town.’
Marnie! What happened?’
`She had him as a pre-dinner snack. And my mother needed counselling. Well, what do you do with four pounds of marinated currants? But it’s history now.’ Dismissing the subject,
Marnie got up. ‘Have another cup of coffee and tell me about your painting.’
So something good — something very good — had come out of that first disastrous visit, but the Gavin Guest business had made things much, much worse, and now she avoided going into the shop if she possibly could.
Still, how long could it take to buy two pints of milk? She opened the door and went in, trying not to gag at the smell, which was now in her mind so deeply associated with unpleasantness.
From behind the counter, Mrs Rees shot a look at her, and then looked pointedly away. There were two women customers there too, who looked round and stared at her slowly, insolently, then turned their backs once more.
The third woman was someone Tessa had never seen before. She must have been well into her sixties, but she was still a very good-looking woman with a fine pale complexion and fair hair which was well-cut but unashamedly turning grey. Her clothes were good — cream silk blouse, natural linen skirt with a light Burberry open on top — but so understated that it looked almost as if she had chosen them to avoid making any personal statement.
The woman was at the post office counter being served, if you could call it that, by Mrs Rees. ‘And half a dozen first-class stamps, please,’ she was saying in a cool, impersonal voice which held no trace of a Welsh accent.
Mrs Rees said nothing in reply, only pushing the stamps under the glass. She scribbled something on a piece of paper and thrust it at her.
Glancing at it, the woman counted out some money; that too was accepted in silence.
`Thank you so much, Mrs Rees. Good afternoon.’
With apparently imperturbable serenity she turned and left the shop. As Tessa grabbed her two pints of milk and went to pay, she heard her speaking to the dog.
Mrs Rees came over to the checkout, rang up the price, took the money and gave her change, also without speaking. As Tessa thankfully hurried out into the fresh air, she heard the mutter of Welsh start behind her.
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