Dead and Disorderly

Cats and dogs, diamonds and danger - launching September 26th

Hi – I’m Merry Summerfield, law-abiding book editor, pet-minder, and unintentional sleuth. When I find Matthew Boatman’s door swinging open I slink into his dark and cat-infested house to make sure he isn’t sick.

To my horror he’s so sick, he’s dead.

The shiny silver arrow in his back is beautifully tidy compared to half a lifetime’s high-piled hoarding. OMG – the mess! Honestly, who could live like this?

Someone needs to call the cops – and that’s me. Again. Detective Bruce Carver is far from impressed, and doesn’t like my plan to feed all the cats so I can keep an eye on the house being emptied out.

I’m watching my back – no arrows please – and keeping my eyes open and my ears flapping as I dish out the kibble, but old Matthew was a diamond hunter in days gone by. Does he have a million-dollar stash of gems hidden here? And has that put me in danger?

* * * * *

This is the third of the Merry Summerfield cozy mysteries - and the cast from Drizzle Bay appears again - Vicar Paul and his sister, Heather... John Bonnington who may or may not be a Black Ops specialist... his mysterious partner at The Burkville Bar and Cafe, Erik... Detective Bruce Carver and his off-sider Marian Wick... Iona and her cupcakes, Bernie the butcher, and of course Lord and Lady Drizzle. There are new faces, too - come and meet them.

Will be free to read on Kindle Unlimited

 

From Chapter 1

I’d never heard a whisper about Matthew Boatman being a hoarder. Dapper bespectacled Matthew – who always mowed his front lawn with a push-mower and was often to be seen clipping his six Manuka bushes into perfect globes. Woe betide any rogue shoot that tried to spoil their rotund perfection!

I could always count on a cheery wave from him – or if it was summer and he was wearing a hat, he’d give me the kind of salute elderly men do by touching the brim without actually taking the hat off. He was the soul of politeness. A pillar of the community. Drove a really old and shiny car.

It seemed odd on the Saturday morning I was collecting for the Red Cross that his front door swung slightly open when I knocked on it. Then a cat gave a loud and plaintive yowl from somewhere around head height. I took a step back with surprise – it was very close. I soon recovered and got my sense back though. It was only a cat, after all.

“Matthew,” I called, pushing the door further open after he hadn’t appeared for thirty seconds or so. “It’s Merry Summerfield.” Maybe he was in the bathroom? I gave him some more time in case, but nothing. Perhaps he’d popped inside from a snipping expedition to make a cup of tea somewhere out the back of the house?

The cat yowled again, making the hairs on the back of my neck rise up. What a spooky noise! A desperate noise – not a sweet little kitty-cat mew. Then there was a blur and a loud thump, followed by the rapid tattoo of furry feet on bare floor-boards. The cat had gone. But where had it been? I took a step forward, nose twitching, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dimness.

It was very dark inside after the bright sunny day. Drizzle Bay in springtime can be dazzling. Blue skies and hard, low sun. I took another step. Something crunched under my foot. Lordy, what had I damaged?

I bent down to see, and the light from the doorway behind me revealed the head of a small bird. Euw! Just the head. The body had been eaten, and a swirl of grey-brown feathers drifted along the narrow hallway. Narrow - I realized an instant later - because the walls on either side were stacked solid with old newspapers and magazines.

I’d never seen so many in my life. The head-high barricade ran past closed doors and blocked the access to those rooms. The cat must have been perched on top. No wonder it made a fair thump when it jumped down.

There were no other sources of light. No doors open, so no windows illuminating anything from the outside. No lamps on. Just my own long shadow stretching out in front of me, and a faint glow from the far end of the right-angled paper-stacked space.

“Matthew!” I bellowed, spooked and weirded out. I didn’t like the situation at all. My hair was up in a pony-tail and the back of my neck chilled and prickled as the little hairs there rose further.

My yell brought no human reply, but another cat howled. I’m sure it was a different animal because its voice was low and hoarse and raspy - unlike the high panicked complaint from the first one.

This was fairly nasty. Should I call the police? I stood there dithering for a few moments, telling myself I was fully adult at almost forty-five, as tall as a medium-height man, well able to defend myself from a couple of cats, and had an open door only a few yards behind me if I needed to make a run for it. I swallowed, then pulled out my phone, turned its light on, and took three or four resolute steps forward. What would I find around the bend? Something I could easily escape from - I hoped.

The heels of my fawn suede ankle-boots sounded loud on the bare timber floor and the soles made disconcerting rubbery squeaks. Matthew had no carpet, no rugs, nothing to soften the noise of my slow steps. I wrapped an arm across my waist to hold my jacket closed. It was cold inside the old house. Not to mention having that arm around me felt strangely comforting – even if it was my own.

I peeked around the corner just as at least three cats made a dash for freedom. Talk about a fright! My light made their shadows look enormous and distorted against the stacked-paper walls. They could have been tigers or panthers for all I knew.

A tail brushed past my leg, and paws raced over my feet and off down the hallway. I’m ashamed to admit I screamed. Only a short, surprised squawk followed by a bit of breathless panting, but still…

Matthew Boatman sat at the cluttered kitchen table, leaning at ease in his chair, a half-opened can of cat food in front of him. A can opener drooped from the rim. Why hadn’t he answered when I’d called his name?

Then I saw it - a long, gleaming arrow neatly imbedded in his back, right between the slats of the chair he was sitting on. It had taken me a few seconds to get far enough into the kitchen to see that. In fact I was fully into the room asking him if he was okay before I noticed it. He definitely had a strange expression on his face.

I imagine I did too. I gave a rip-roarer of a scream this time and bolted for freedom every bit as fast as the cats had, dropping my plastic Red Cross collection bag as I ran. The coins inside made a loud clunk on the floorboards and some of them escaped and rolled away into the darkness. I wasn’t stopping to find them! Fresh air and sunlight were what I needed, and no dead people with arrows in their backs. The cheerful yellow jacket I’d put on to match the tubs of daffodils in the main street of the village suddenly seemed a very inappropriate choice.

I sagged against the black wrought-iron gate, still panting, switched off my light, and scrolled with trembling fingers for Detective Bruce Carver’s number. For once his snarky voice would be very welcome.

“Ms Summerfield,” he grated, sounding surprised to hear from me. Well, it was several months since I’d told him he should go to Drizzle Farm and have a word with Denny McKenzie about the body on the X-shaped tree. Maybe he hadn’t expected to hear from me again? For sure I hadn’t imagined I’d ever find a third murder in our sleepy village.

My heart was doing the tango, pounding out an uneven rhythm somewhere behind the black lace Double-D cups of my new bra. I’d be willing to swear it was thudding right behind the little bow in the center.

“I’m in Paradise Road,” I blurted. “Matthew Boatman’s dead.” Panting from my rapid run down the hallway and across the lawn – the shortest route to the gate – I added, “Shot in the back with an arrow.” It was all I could manage.

There was absolute silence for a couple of seconds, and then DS Carver cleared his throat. “Hang on,” he said.