Sunday, 21 May 2017

Dirty Deeds on Downdene

Here is the opening to the second Cleo Marjoribanks murder mystery: 

There I was doing my vastly improved dog-paddle up and down the pool when the phone rang.  Yeah, I know that like all modern marvels it can answer itself but, I dunno, it sounded urgent.  I made it to the steps and clambered out, grabbed a towel and picked up the receiver as it was about to self respond.
“Queen of the Nile, how’re you doing?”
“Hi, Primrose.  I’m fine.  You?”
“Fine!  Fine!”  This was said airily and I grew suspicious of my crime journalist friend.
“Really?  So to what do I owe the honour of this call?”  A peal of laughter came down the wire and I held the receiver away from my ear so that she didn’t split me ear-drum.  Prim is a sweet girl, born on Primrose Day and as her surname’s Day, her parents got a bit carried away.  (Primrose Day?  19th April, the anniversary of the day Disraeli died and, as primroses were his favourite flowers Queen Victoria had the day so named in his memory).  When I first knew Prim her hair was braided and trimmed with hundreds of beads.  Noisy.  Now she’s got it short and curly.  Natural like.  She’s black, beautiful and works on one of the national dailies.
“Not much gets past you does it, Cleo?”
“At my size, ducks, no.  So, why are you calling?”
“Well, I hear lover boy’s got himself another murder to investigate.”
I frowned.  “Really?  How did you hear about this before me?”  Not fair.  David hadn't mentioned it.  That's DCI 'Steaming' Kettle and my lover.
“Contacts,” Prim responded succinctly.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, alright.  So what are you calling me about?”
“Thought you might have some idea about it, but as I’ve been the bearer of the news I guess you don’t know anything.”
“You guess right and I’m not going to get involved this time.”
“No, I’m sure you're not,” she said disbelievingly.
“I’m not,” I told her indignantly.
“Okay.  Don’t you want to know anything about it?”
Can’t keep my curiosity to myself can I?  My friends know me too well.  “Not really.”  I tried to match her earlier airy tone.
“Come off it, girl, course you do.”  Yeah, she’s also a cockney but it don’t come out as often as mine.
“You’re going ter tell me anyway, aren't you?”
She chuckled.  “Of course.”
“Go on then,” I urged as she kept me waiting.
“Seems like an estate agent dropped dead in his soup at some do in Lymington last night.”
“Oh?”  Definitely interesting.  So who had done for him?  A disgruntled client?  Someone who had been gazumped?
“Well, not exactly in the soup.  It was a bit later than that.  At the moment the cops aren’t calling it murder, just a sudden death which they have to investigate.  Seems strange to me that Steaming is in on it, though.  Doesn’t it?”
“Definitely.  Wonder what he was given?"  The victim I mean.  "In Lymington you said?”
“So I gather you’re on your way down here?”
She laughed again.  “Well, I've been told to come down there and thought it might be a good idea to visit you?”  Why was she querying it?  She knew I’d want her to stay here. “I thought I could stay in the house instead of the flat over the garage.  You know, keep you company while lover-boy is working.”
“What d’you mean, keep me company?”
“As they say in my job, if you ain’t got contacts, you ain’t got a job.  No point in not using them, is there?”  I could almost hear the smile.
“You win.  What time shall I expect you?”  We fixed an approximate time in the afternoon, then she asked, “What you doing?  Sounds as if you’re in the pool room.”
“I was just practicing.”
“Good girl.  I’ll give you some more lessons, if you like.”
“So that I can start powering up and down the pool the same way you do?”
That made her laugh.  “Sorry, Cleo, I don’t think you’d quite manage that.”
“I don’t think so either.  Anyway, see you later.”
I put the phone down and picked up me robe and put it on.  That was the end of my swimming practice for the day.  Time to go and shower and get dressed.  I should explain that the pool room was once a conservatory.  When I bought this place it was missing most of its glass and the plants had run wild. 
The house is a 1920s mock Tudor effort and the old girl who’d owned it before me kept cats and didn’t do no housework.  It was in a right sorry state.  Mind you, I did get it at a bargain price, but had to spend a lot to put it right.  It’s smashing now.  My bathroom’s got a spa bath and I’ve had another two rooms made into a guest suite and that’s also got a spa bath.  Got a thing about them, I have.  I've also got a 'community' one in the pool room and another in my flat in London.  And there's a flat over the double garage.  That's actually for a housekeeper but now I keep it as a 'guest suite'.  In the garage are my Land Rover and my precious Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.
I know it sounds daft, but do you know I actually got dressed before I made my next phone call?  I could have laid on the bed abso-bloody-lutely starkers and no one would have seen me and I admit that I’m not exactly a pretty sight when naked.  At least, I don’t think so.  Suppose I ought to tell you something about me.
The name’s Cleo Marjoribanks – pronounced Marchbanks as I often have to tell people who get it wrong.  People are never sure whether my hair is naturally red but my colouring is fair and I do freckle.  I leave it for you to decide!  And I tend to load on the paintwork, especially the eye-shadow which confounds people when it comes to the colour of my eyes.  You know, are they blue, are they grey or are they hazel?  Depends on the eye-shadow.  Me nose is straight and little on the large size and I have a very determined chin.  No, I'm not beautiful, but I think you could call it interesting.
I have to wear glasses when I’m driving because I’m short-sighted.  Not quite blind as a bat.  And I’m what’s called 'stately' so I go crazy with clothes.  Lots of caftans - they cover a multitude of sins.  And the regulatory strings of beads to wear with them.  The problem with them is that they catch on the most unlikely things.  Whoever is with me at the time usually ends up scrabbling on the ground trying to find the missing beads.  Because I’m well-endowed the beads won’t lie flat against me chest.

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