What would you do to get a job? Murder maybe? But what do you do when you fancy one of the key witnesses? Inspector Robin Bright is thrown a romantic curveball he didn’t see coming while investigating a murder in a local village school, however professionalism comes first and there is to be no fraternising with the witness Adam Matthews, or is there? How did he manage?
All you need to know is below, except obviously for whodunnit!
Charlie is also with us today being interviewed about why she decided to release her very first crime story.
Guest Post – An Interview with Charlie
1) Charlie, you write the Cambridge fellows series of historical romantic mysteries, and now you’ve got your first contemporary. You started out writing romances, so what made you turn to crime?
Um, because it meant I could “commit a murder” and get away with it? I think writing crime brings out all my mischievous (some might say anarchic) side, my love of puzzles and my inherent belief that good should triumph over evil.
I’ve always been huge fan of classic cosy mysteries – Christie, Sayers, Conan Doyle and the like are all grist to my reading mill. But my absolute favourite, and the book which inspired me to start writing crime, is “Death at the President’s Lodging” by Michael Innes. First published in 1936, it was Innes’ debut novel and entirely fitting in subject and style for a lecturer in English. It’s witty, erudite, just a bit odd and absolutely unsolvable (without actually cheating the reader). You may well identify the culprit but I defy anyone to work out exactly what happened to poor Umpleby, the victim, or how the red herrings appeared.
2) What exactly was it in that book which inspired you?
There’s one scene in “Death at the President’s Lodging” which is so “slashy” that I had to re-read it several times. The detective, Appleby, is observing one of the suspects , a college don who also writes murder mysteries . He goes into great detail about how beautiful (his word, not mine) and generally multi-talented Gott is, which struck me as bordering, no doubt unintentionally, on the romantic. (Actually there are little splashes of slash throughout the book.) I could have shouted out loud, “There must be a book set in an early twentieth century Cambridge college, with gay detectives, in a relationship like Wimsey and Vane.” So I set off in search of just such a tale, but I couldn’t find it. (No, I won’t accept Holmes and Watson as fitting that category.) That lack of success made me decide to start writing my own.
As a bonus, there’s one aspect to “Death at the President’s Lodging” which has a strange resonance. Innes, writing in the mid 1930’s, sets his story in an imaginary Oxbridge type university located midway between the two venerable institutions – at Bletchley, a place soon to become the focus for intellectual machinations which, far from leading to murder, helped secure our country’s freedom.
3) So why turn from the Edwardian to the modern day?
“Midsomer Murders”? Seriously, I had the chance to submit a script idea for the show (long story, didn’t get beyond a plot outline because the lead character in the series changed), so I had a design for a village set mystery nestling in my WIP file. One day I thought, what if I made the detective gay – and had him attracted to the nice young male teacher who was already in the storyline? It seemed like a mad idea but once I started going through and adapting the story, it began to take on a life of its own. Inspector Robin Bright turned out to have unpleasant memories of his schooldays which had a major impact on the tale, and Adam owned a dog who seems to be the major secondary character!
4) US set mysteries vs. UK based ones?
They both have their distinct appeals. One of the great things about our genre is the variety in it! Maybe the crime stories from this side of the Atlantic are a touch more genteel (more tea, cakes and cats?) although I suspect that may be changing. There are some very hard edged thrillers coming from British pens, and I suspect that edge has always been there. “Titus Andronicus” is hardly all scones and jam.
The same applies to television. We may have an idea that all British set mysteries are like “Midsomer Murders”? or “Rosemary and Thyme” but “Taggart” has always been as gritty, and as ready to face up to real issues as anything from over the pond. And, relevant to our genre, “Taggart” was one of the first shows to feature a gay policeman as one of their main, long running characters – and one whose sexuality was just part of their personality rather than being something tubs were thumped about.
Hey! Now you’ve got me thinking about who would play Robin if “The Best Corpse for the Job” ever made it to the telly.
Title: The Best Corpse for the Job
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release: 24th November 2014
Genre: M/M (murder-mystery)
Tea and sympathy have never been so deadly.
Schoolteacher Adam Matthews just wants to help select a new headteacher and go home. The governors at Lindenshaw St Crispin’s have already failed miserably at finding the right candidate, so it’s make or break this second time round. But when one of the applicants is found strangled in the school, what should have been a straightforward decision turns tempestuous as a flash flood in their small English village.
Inspector Robin Bright isn’t thrilled to be back at St. Crispin’s. Memories of his days there are foul enough without tossing in a complicated murder case. And that handsome young teacher has him reminding himself not to fraternize with a witness. But it’s not long before Robin is relying on Adam for more than just his testimony.
As secrets amongst the governors emerge and a second person turns up dead, Robin needs to focus less on Adam and more on his investigation. But there are too many suspects, too many lies, and too many loose ends. Before they know it, Robin and Adam are fighting for their lives and their hearts.
Oh my, how do you turn a very quaint and traditional English village into complete turmoil? Yes, you have a little murder English style in the local school; then the kettles will be working over time brewing tea to calm the nerves and more biscuits served up then you can shake a stick at. Yes, I loved the whole idea of this story, the characters, plot and setting are all so quintessentially English I was in my element. So for all those anglophiles out there then you will want to get stuck into this book for sure.
Adam Matthews is a school teacher who is on the interview panel for the board of governors, his school needs a new head teacher. When I was in school it was headmaster or headmistress so there is political correctness for you once again - lol! When the next candidate doesn’t appear to give his presentation, although they know he is in the school, they go looking for him and find him. Yes, dead as a dodo in the school kitchen. OMG - can you just imagine? Rural, traditional, quiet England thrown into complete chaos by the shame of a murderer in their presence.
First the board of governors are all very different characters. Adam is the new, caring, modern super teacher. Victor Narraway the chairman for the board of governors, old school, strict, who possibly believes a bit of caning never did anyone any harm. Christine Probert, mother of two, bit of a flirt, but assertive, attractive and attracts the attentions of most of the men. Marjorie Bookham who is married to a chauvinistic pig and brute of a husband who firmly believes a woman needs to be chained to the kitchen sink The village vicar Neil Musgrave, your typical English village vicar who knows the dirt on everyone. Jeremy Tunstall a bureaucrat, rule abider and job’s worth to the last punctuation mark. Last, but not least, Jennifer the school secretary who probably runs the place in secret and has been there since time immemorial. The line up is complete and I just loved the balance in all of these characters in the fact they are all very different with very different backgrounds, views and attitudes.
From this point on I was in my element, a real Miss Marple style whodunnit ensues, but here in the role of Miss Marple is Inspector Robin Bright and his investigation partner Sergeant Anderson. What I liked first and foremost was the concept of this whole investigation, it had a very British Cop show feel to it. The ribbing that went on between Robin and Anderson was brilliant, loved it. Anderson knows his boss is gay but still can’t resist getting in the odd good humoured dig or joke. Robin is called in on the case and the investigation starts. However, he was once a pupil at St. Crispin’s school too. His childhood experiences of the school weren’t so nice for him, he was bullied as a child at a time where it was quite possibly viewed as character building. Just being in the school brings all these bad memories flooding back and is the cause of a few of his problems today no matter how successful he has been since he left school. I really felt for him, bullying is a horrible thing and hopefully today’s teachers are more aware of the damaging effects it can have than before.
During the questioning Adam finds himself unequivocally attracted to Robin, but what the hell can you do when you are attracted to the investigating officer? Here we have an excellent case of love being out of reach and provided for some real tension and almost heart-aching moments where you could feel them getting so close, but Robin due to his situation always backing away. What a merry dance this ended up being and for me personally, despite the whole murder-mystery aspect of the story, Adam’s and Robin’s attraction to each other but not being able to take it to a romantic level was just thrilling in itself. It almost had a tantalising quality about it. Robin oversteps the mark on several occasions as he finds himself becoming ever more attracted and if Adam wasn’t on the list of suspects he probably would have jumped his bones immediately. I don’t know if I would have had the patience that Adam had, saying to himself all the time that as soon as this mess is cleared up then the path will be clear to really start to date each other.
However, the whole duty and professionalism thing comes first and at least Adam could respect this. This made the book very light if non-existent on the erotic side, but that was OK for me as the developing relationship between Robin and Adam I found just as intriguing as the murder itself, watching how the attraction builds but always that damned line that Robin is not allowed to cross. Gawd, it must be excruciating. I would be no good as a Police Investigator as put in that situation I know I would probably throw caution to the wind, listen to what my heart and hormones are saying and say “fuck it” and then get the sack and disciplinary hearing at the same time. I felt Robin had a good friend and ally in Sergeant Anderson as he is more than aware of the attraction that Robin has for Adam, teases Robin about it but never lets on to anyone else. After all I guess we are all human and not perfect and I think Anderson knew that his boss would never overstep the mark completely.
The murder-mystery aspect I found intriguing and fun. I never really have been one for trying to work out who the murderer is before the end and prefer to be entertained, just letting the investigation unfold until revealing bit-by-bit the likely suspects and watching the noose tighten. We not only get one, but two murders and plot wise everything was coherent, logically thought out, one of those stories where through Robin’s investigation the loose ends start to come together and the more Robin digs the more comes to light. A little traditional maybe but I liked it very much none the less. What initially looks like an unsolvable case gets a couple of lucky breaks until the murderer is apprehended. Did I start to guess or get an inkling for who the murderer was? Well, to be honest not until about 70%, but then as I said I wasn’t trying too hard myself. So did the murderer come as a surprise. Well, yes I could never have thought out such a convoluted story myself so enjoyed every minute of it.
As for Robin and Adam? Well, by the end of the book they get their HFN. The murderer is apprehended and now they’re relationship can really begin. But then if they managed to survive all this then I’m sure a future together is going to be no problem.
Adam Matthews stifled a yawn, shifted in his seat, and wished he were anywhere else but here.
Outside, the sun was shining. A beautiful late-spring Thursday morning in a beautiful English village. Two blackbirds were having a standoff on a grassy bank dotted with daisies; the world looked bright, exciting, and full of hope. The only sign of schoolchildren was the sound of purposeful activity. Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s School was putting on its handsomest face, as if it knew it had to sell itself to the visiting candidates as much as they had to sell themselves to the board of governors. Maybe that handsome face would distract them from learning just how much of a bloody mess the school was and how badly it needed a new headteacher to turn it round.
Simon Ford, one of the applicants for the headteacher post, was droning his way through his presentation on “what makes an outstanding school,” sending volleys of jargon and acronyms flying through the air to assault his listeners’ ears. The droning was so bad that Adam’s head began to nod. Which, in the greater scheme of things, was the least of his worries.
He was one of the poor sods trying to work out whether Ford was right for the job.
Two days of activities, interviews, picking apart everything the candidates said, and this was only bloody day one. He’d been given a particularly important role, or so Victor Reed, the chair of governors, had said. They needed an educational perspective, and Adam’s invaluable feedback from the candidates’ presentations and his marking of their data-handling exercises would help the rest of the governors—as laypeople—form an opinion. Yet, all Adam could feed back at the moment was the feeling of being bored to death. He knew he should have brought his buzzword bingo sheet.
“Adam? What’s your view on that point?”
Oh hell. Victor was talking to him, and he had no idea what it was about. “I’m sorry,” Adam busked it, trying to look like he’d been deep in meaningful thought. “I was thinking about the point Mr. Ford made about children in care. Could you repeat the question?”
“Mr. Ford was saying that the key to any school’s success is the enthusiasm for learning it produces in its pupils.”
“Were I to be headteacher of Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s,” Ford began again, before Adam could add his twopenn’orth, “I would make it my priority to engender that lifelong love of learning in all the children here.”
Bugger. That would have given me full house on my buzzword bingo card.
Still, Ford had hit at the crux of the matter because the previous headteacher had done bugger all to make anybody want to do anything at the school, least of all the teachers to produce good, or even outstanding, lessons. As was typical of too many nice little schools in leafy English villages, St. Crispin’s had relied on its reputation for too long. The best thing the previous headteacher had done for the school was leaving it, although the reasons for that lay under a cloud of rumour and secrecy. Why was it proving so hard getting somebody to step into her shoes? They’d tried the previous term and failed.
Adam sneaked a look at the clock. Ten past twelve—not much more torture to endure today. He caught the eye of one of the parent governors, who gave him a wink. Christine Probert was keen, committed, and pretty as a peach. The hemline of the skirt resting at her knees hadn’t stopped the blokes present from eyeing up her legs.
“Do we have any questions?” Victor asked, surveying the governors with an expression that seemed to demand they didn’t.
“Mr. Ford, what is your view on—” Oliver Narraway, community governor and the bane of much of the community’s life, nipped in but not quick enough.
“Simon, I’m a parent governor, so you’ll appreciate why I ask this question.” Christine had been hotter off the mark than Usain Bolt. “You mentioned parental involvement as being key to children’s success. How have you engaged them in your existing role?”
Well done, Christine. Tie down the loose cannon.
Ford beamed. “That’s a challenge for every school these days, Mrs. Probert. At Newby Grange Primary . . .” He was off again, leaving Oliver looking furious at having been knocked off his “modern education is rubbish” hobbyhorse and Victor breathing a huge sigh of relief at that fact. Oliver’s hit list didn’t stop at modern education; it included modern hymns and women in positions of power—apart from Mrs. Thatcher, whom he regarded as a saint. And gay men. Or, as Oliver put it, raving poofs.
Surely they’d break for lunch soon? Adam felt guilty for not being more enthusiastic, but he wouldn’t give any of the candidates houseroom on their showings so far. Three years he’d been teaching here, and despite all its failings, despite the lack of leadership and the dinosaurs on the governing body who couldn’t be trusted to choose new curtains let alone a new headteacher, he loved the place.
He looked sideways at Oliver, watching him slowly seethe at what Ford was saying. What would he do if he saw me coming out of that bar in Stanebridge? Bosie’s wouldn’t be his sort of place. All right, nobody could sack him for being gay, thank God and employment law, but he wouldn’t put it past any of them to make his life intolerable. Subtly, of course. Just like the previous headteacher, had done. Maybe that’s why she’d been eased out, or at least one of the reasons, before the wrath of the school inspectors came down like a ton of bricks and even more cow manure hit the fan.
A knock on the door, followed by the appearance round it of Jennifer Shepherd, the school secretary, cut short all talk.
“Sorry to interrupt. The wire’s worked loose on the front door release again, and the thing won’t open properly.”
“I’ll sort it.” Adam was out of his chair before anyone could stop him. Freedom ahoy! Thank goodness the caretaker only worked early mornings and evenings so Adam was the appointed handyman the rest of the time. “Sorry everyone. Class A emergency.”
“That’s fine,” Victor said, sending him on his way with a wave. “Our security system is vitally important,” he added, addressing Ford. Vitally important and almost impenetrable. Unless someone was a staff member, and as such, granted knowledge of the entry code for the keypad. Somebody, like Ford himself, couldn’t usually get into the school except through the main door. He’d need to buzz the intercom and persuade Jennifer to press the little switch to let him in, after which he’d come into view of her desk, through the hatchway window. Ultimate power for Jennifer, except when the wire had worked loose, then nobody without the code could get in that way short of bulldozing the door down.
Adam followed Jennifer down the corridor.
“Sorry to pull you out,” she said. “I didn’t have anywhere else to turn.”
“I’ll give it my best shot,” Adam said, stepping into the office and realising that freedom was still a pipe dream. Ian Youngs, another candidate for the headship, was flicking through a book of school photographs. This was part of his free time, intended to let the candidates have a chance to go round the school and get to know it better. Adam could think of better things to do with the time, like talking to the children, rather than lurking in the office.
“Got that screwdriver, Jennifer?”
Jennifer handed over a little box of tools. “I’ll leave you to it.” She turned her attention to the other invader of her territory. “Are you enjoying those? That’s from when St. Crispin’s won the local mathematics challenge in 1995.”
“Really?” Youngs didn’t sound impressed.
“Yes. We used to be one of the top schools in the county.”
Adam felt Jennifer bridling, even though he was under the desk, wrestling a handful of wires.
“You seemed to win lots of awards in the 1990s, Mrs. Shepherd,” Youngs continued, sounding like he was trying to redeem himself. Adam wanted to warn him not to smile, as that would ruin the effect. He’d weighed the bloke up as soon as he’d seen him, and while Youngs wasn’t exactly bad looking, when he opened his mouth, he revealed a set of crooked teeth. Not the most attractive smile, especially in combination with his slightly protruding ears.
“We did.” Jennifer didn’t sound any happier. She cleared her throat and changed the subject. “Will they be out soon, Adam?”
“Should be.” Adam emerged, brushing fluff from his trousers. “All sorted, I think.”
Jennifer pressed the button, heard the release catch open, then smiled. “You’re so clever. What would I do without you?”
“Have a peaceful life?” Adam winked at Youngs, who just scowled in return.
“It’s a shame they can’t just change the timetable around and see you straight after lunch, Mr. Youngs, now that we’re down to two candidates instead of three. It means you having to kick your heels for ages,” Jennifer said. “But our Mr. Narraway insisted we had to keep to what we’d planned, breaks and all.”
“It’s to do with the timing of assembly,” Adam explained. “The vicar has to watch Simon Ford lead an act of worship, like he watched you earlier, before he sits in on your presentation. And we all need a bit of lunch before any of that.” Adam kept his eye on Youngs, who was slipping a piece of paper—on which Adam had seen him jot something down—into his pocket.
“I don’t mind.” Youngs smiled, crooked teeth and all. “It’ll be nice to go stretch my legs for a while. This morning’s been hard work, what with taking assembly and getting the third degree from the pupil panel.”
Jennifer smiled at the mention of the pupils. “You should take a wander around the village while you’re at it, Mr. Youngs. You can’t say many places have kept their charm and not changed too much over the years, but it’s certainly true of Lindenshaw.”
Adam choked back a laugh. Parts of Lindenshaw had barely reached the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first.
“I’ve got that impression already. I’ll see you at about half past one, Mrs. Shepherd.” Youngs turned towards the door.
“Good. That’ll give you plenty of time to set up your presentation. They’re strict about punctuality.”
“I’ll remember that.” Youngs stopped at the office door, and Adam thought he heard the man mutter, “I bet they like being strict about all sorts of things.” Youngs pushed against the front door, annoyed that it wouldn’t budge, as the rest of the governors came out of the classroom and into the hallway.
“You’ll need to use the exit button,” Christine piped up, smiling at Youngs.
“Thank you!” he replied, beaming. Every male candidate puffed his chest out when Christine was around, like a gamecock trying to impress a hen.
“It’s like bloody Alcatraz getting in and out of here,” Oliver said.
Adam gave him a sharp glance; Oliver was watching Youngs with more than a passing interest, as were the vicar and Marjorie Bookham—the only other woman on the governing body—as if there was something about the man that they were trying to fathom out. A hand on Adam’s shoulder ushered him along the corridor, and the others following in his wake. The Reverend Neil Musgrave was steering his flock as usual, this time in the direction of the staffroom, where lunch would be waiting.
“The more I see that man, the more I think I might have met him somewhere before,” Neil said. “What about you, Marjorie? Does he ring any bells?”
Marjorie bridled. “Of course he doesn’t. If I knew him from somewhere, then I’d have already declared it or else I might not be allowed to stay on the selection panel.” She stopped, waiting for Victor to catch the others up. “I’m right, aren’t I, Victor?”
“Sorry, Marjorie, I missed that.” The chair of governors looked preoccupied, his normally neat appearance slightly awry and an untidy pile of papers under his arm.
“I said that if the vicar crossed swords with Ian Youngs in the past, then he should declare it.”
“What’s all this? Can’t have any conflict of interest, Neil,” Victor said.
Neil shook his head. “I didn’t say that I knew him. Marjorie’s being mischievous. I just said I had a feeling I’d met him at some point in the past, but even if I have, it’s probably something entirely innocuous. I run across an awful lot of people in the diocese, one way or another.”
Victor, who had a certain bovine quality, scowled. “Please be careful, Marjorie, even if you’re just making a joke. Remember all the trouble we had last time we tried to recruit.”
Seconds out, round one?
“I don’t think I’m responsible for that debacle.” Marjorie turned on her heels and headed for the ladies’ toilet, sashaying stylishly as she went. Marjorie was a good-looking woman for her age—early fifties, maybe?—and was always immaculately dressed in clothes that reeked of class and couldn’t have been found even in the poshest of the Stanebridge shops.
Neil watched her go, shrugged theatrically, then led the way to the staffroom and lunch.
Adam flopped into his favourite chair, grabbed a sandwich, and dealt with priority number one. Cheese and pickle would stop the rumbling in his stomach from becoming too audible.
“They both seem to be very nice. Mr. Ford and Mr. Youngs,” Christine said.
“Nice?” Oliver snorted from across the room. “I’m not sure nice is what we’re looking for in a headmaster.”
“Admiral Narraway’s looking for a hanging and flogging captain,” Neil said under his breath.
Victor grimaced. “We shouldn’t make any judgements this early in the process. And it’s ‘headteacher,’ not ‘headmaster,’ remember? Gender neutral.”
“We can decide if we want to send them home.” Oliver, ignoring the gender bit, pointed his sandwich crust at Victor as though it were a gun.
“Like we sent them home when we tried last term? Not one of them made it through to the second day and the interviews proper.” He fished the tea bag from his mug, flinging it into the bin like a bullet.
“That’s because they were all rubbish,” Oliver continued, aiming his crust gun at Neil this time. “And I can tell you exactly why. It was because—”
“Sorry, chaps and chapesses. May I remind everyone present about confidentiality?” Victor wagged his finger. “I’m sorry, but what happens in the interview room stays in the interview room. Leave it at the fact that none of them were good enough.”
Marjorie, who had returned and was now hovering by the watercooler, nodded. “It’s such a shame Lizzie Duncan was taken ill and couldn’t be here. Getting a woman’s answer to some of the questions would have been enlightening. And yes, I know the last woman wasn’t much use, but don’t tar all of my sex with the same brush.”
“We couldn’t have put the process off again, Marjorie,” Victor said, tetchily.
“We’ll just have to hope these two chaps don’t make a mess of things like the last lot did,” Oliver said, unable to point his crust gun at anyone as he’d eaten it.
Adam wasn’t interested in hearing more if they weren’t going to dish the dirt on the last round of recruitment and looked up at the clock. “Blimey, is that the time? I’ve got a phone call to make.”
“Making a date for the weekend?” Christine smiled knowingly.
“Nothing so glamorous. Finding out how Mother’s cat got on at the vet. Said I’d ring before one o’clock. Twenty minutes before I get cut out of the will.”
Marjorie picked up her handbag. “I think there’s time for me to nip home and put my washing out. Shame to waste a good drying day.”
“Just make sure you’re back in time.” Victor kept looking at his phone. “Ian Youngs is giving his presentation at one fifty-five.”
Marjorie headed out of the room as Oliver got to his feet. “I’m going to find somewhere to have a cigar. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I’m far enough away from the school not to pollute the air the little ones are going to breathe.” He slammed the door behind him.
Neil, hovering over his seventh sandwich, shook his head. “He’s always been a bit of a loose cannon, and I fear he’s getting looser by the day.”
“Then tie him down,” Jeremy Tunstall said, looking up from the huge pile of papers he’d been flicking through. Lead Learning Partners, or whatever it was they were calling the people from the county education department this week, seemed to go through a lot of trees. “You don’t want a repeat of the mess you got into when you tried to recruit before. Now, I’ve got calls to make, assuming I can get a bloody signal. I’ll be back about half past one.”
Adam watched him go. “I should have told him about the ladies’ loo. You’re supposed to be able to get a signal in there.”
“How do you know?” Neil asked, grinning.
“Jennifer told us, of course.” Adam eased out of his chair. If he went out into the lane by the school field and faced south, he could generally get a decent fix on the network. Maybe it would be easier just to see Jennifer and ask to use the landline?
He was halfway through the office door when Jennifer’s voice—in conversation with Marjorie about sandwiches or some such nonsense—stopped him. He didn’t want to be nabbed by these two formidable females, who, for all their superficial spikiness with each other, had always been thick as thieves.
“Neither Simon nor Ian joined us for lunch, even though there was an open invitation. Are they in the candidates’ hidey-hole?”
“Hidey-hole? Oh, you mean the children’s kitchen? Not as far as I know.” Jennifer waved her hand airily.
Marjorie sniffed. “Good. We were hoping they might spend their spare time looking around the school and talking to the children rather than hiding away.”
“Oh, that nice Mr. Ford was certainly keen to do that. Last time I saw him, he was being led off by a group of children to eat his sandwiches with them on the field.” Jennifer smiled; it was clear which candidate she had her eye on. “It’s such a lovely day, we let the children have a bit of a picnic out there. Much healthier.”
“I wish I’d joined them. I feel the need of some fresh air, especially having been cooped up with Oliver most of the morning.” Marjorie eased past Adam, who was still hovering in the doorway, leaving a trail of good-quality perfume behind her.
“Maybe you could rescue Mr. Ford if he’s still out there,” Jennifer shouted after her. “I wouldn’t put it past some of the year-six children to have tied him to a tree by now, pretending he’s a human sacrifice.”
The ringing of the bell signalled the end of the children’s lunchtime but not quite the end of Adam’s phone call. They’d established that the cat was fine and the vet hadn’t charged an arm and a leg, and were just getting onto the “when are you next coming to dinner?” bit.
“Let me get through these next few days, and I’ll organise something. Bell’s going. Got to go. Love you.”
The vicar was coming up the field, weaving his way between children as they dawdled over getting into line. He looked distracted.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Adam asked as Neil approached.
“Eh?” He took a deep breath. “Oh, they’re not even worth a farthing. Come on, better not be late or Victor will have my guts for garters.”
“I think you’ve got the short straw. Watching Ford lead assembly and then back in to listen to another presentation.”
“Collective worship, not assembly. The bishop insists on the right name as we’re a church school.” Neil winked. “Only the second collective worship of the day. I’ll survive.” Neil steered them towards the side of the school. “I’ll take the shortcut and see if anyone will let me into the hall direct.”
“I’ll sign you in, then, or Jennifer will have your guts for garters too.”
“Don’t bother. I forgot to sign out.”
Adam wished he were going with the man. Watching assembly had to be better than going through Ian Youngs’s data analysis—another one of the many hoops they’d made the candidates jump through. He’d take the file into Jennifer’s office and plonk himself at the spare desk, which was about the only bit of free space available today, then plug in his iPod so the background noise wouldn’t disturb his concentration.
He was a third of the way through the task when a quiet passage in his music coincided with a harsh buzz from the front door intercom.
“Who is it?” Jennifer spoke into a little grey box, out of which a tinny version of Marjorie’s voice emerged in answer. She flicked a switch under her desk. “It’s open, come in.”
Marjorie soon appeared at the hatch. “Does someone eat all of the pens here?”
Jennifer looked up. “What? Oh, sorry, Marjorie, I’ve been fighting with the computer all lunchtime. It’s got a mind of its own. Here you are.” She eased herself out of her chair and passed a Biro through the hatchway.
“I’m not late, am I? Oliver would tear me off a strip if I was.” Marjorie didn’t seem overly concerned about the fact.
“More likely give you six from the cane.” Jennifer appeared pleased with herself for making a slightly saucy joke, even though Marjorie didn’t seem at all amused. “No, you’re fine.”
Adam gave up trying to sort out the data. “The presentation’s not due to start until one fifty-five, so you’ve even got the chance to grab a cup of tea.”
“Anyway, Mr. Youngs went for a bit of fresh air earlier on and isn’t back yet, so he’ll be the one getting the wigging.” Jennifer shook her head.
Marjorie sniffed. “How was the cat, Adam?”
“Cat? Oh, yes, fine, thank you.”
“Adam had to ring his mother about her cat,” Marjorie explained, showing no sign of going to get some tea, or even of going anywhere.
“Are you sure he wasn’t ringing his girlfriend?” Jennifer said, archly.
“If I was, I wouldn’t tell you. You’d be working out how to get in touch with her and snitch about all my bad habits.” Adam cringed. Why did he always feel as if he had to hide? Why couldn’t he bring a partner to the summer social without risking somebody like Oliver having palpitations? Might help to have a partner to bring, of course.
“I can’t believe you have any bad habits, Adam.” Marjorie smiled.
Better ask the ex about that, Marjorie. He’d make your eyes stand out like organ stops.
“It’s nearly ten to two. I’ll give Mr. Youngs another couple of minutes, and then I’ll ring his mobile.” Jennifer was back at her desk, scowling at the computer, which seemed to be misbehaving still.
“If he’s got his phone turned on. We do ask candidates to switch them off during the activities.” Marjorie sniffed again. “I think I will get myself a cup of tea. It’s been a bit more hectic today than I thought it would be.”
“You shouldn’t have rushed home; you should have put your feet up,” Jennifer said, still making faces at the screen. “Your husband could have put the washing out, couldn’t he?”
“Could he? That would be an unexpected case of taking initiative.” Marjorie turned on her heel and headed for the staffroom.
“She leads a dog’s life.” Jennifer kept her voice low, even though Marjorie had gone around the corner. “When you get wed, don’t you expect your wife to wait on you hand and foot.”
“I promise I won’t,” Adam replied. That was a cast-iron guarantee.
Back again. Same classroom, same panel, same anticipation of death by PowerPoint.
Same Oliver, glancing at the clock and looking like he was about to explode.
“I say we should just scratch Youngs’s presentation and count it as a definitive black mark against him.” Oliver clenched and unclenched his hands. “We don’t want a headmaster who can’t keep his appointments.”
Christine, inevitably, was the voice of reason. “We should give him another few minutes. Maybe he got lost.”
“Got lost?” Oliver glowered. “Then he shouldn’t have been wandering around, should he? What’s that chappie Ford doing now?”
“It’s all on the timetable, of which you have a copy, although I don’t suppose you’ve bothered with it.” Victor rummaged in his inside pocket, producing a folded sheet of A4 paper. “He’s into his second session of free time. You’ve just been watching him lead an assembly, haven’t you, Neil?”
Neil rubbed his hands together. “Yes. And very good it was. The children loved singing ‘Our God is a great—’”
“This is ridiculous.” Tunstall got up, prowled over to the window, and peered out. “Can’t see him.”
Marjorie turned in her seat to address Adam. “He did go out for a walk?”
“Yes. He made his escape just when I’d finished sorting that buzzer out.”
Tunstall shook his head. “I was hoping he’d show a bit more gumption. Simon Ford certainly seems to be on the children’s wavelength.”
Adam waited for the inevitable comment from Oliver. It came.
“Do we want someone on their wavelength? When I was young, I was scared stiff of my teachers, and when I was a headmaster, the children would never have wanted to play skipping with me. Fear and respect—that’s what’s lacking these days.”
Tunstall swivelled in his chair. “We want someone who can take the school into the twenty-first century. You seem to want to drag it back to the nineteenth.”
Oliver stood up. “Now, you just—”
Any likelihood of fisticuffs was put on hold by a knock on the door. Shame. Adam had been looking forward to Tunstall versus Narraway, heavyweight knockout.
“Come in!” Victor said.
Jennifer stuck her head around the door. “I’ve tried ringing Mr. Youngs, but he’s not picking up his mobile. Do you think he’s all right?”
“Good lord, you don’t think he’s had an accident or something, do you?” Christine grabbed Adam’s arm.
“What on earth makes you think that, Christine?” Victor asked. “Would you try ringing again, please, Jennifer? If there is some genuine problem, we should allow him a bit of leeway.”
Tunstall forestalled any dissent. “Ian Youngs is a good candidate, and you can’t afford to turn your noses up at him if he’s been delayed by something out of his control.”
The increasingly awkward silence just continued. Apart from a faint noise . . .
“Is it me, or does that sound like a mobile phone?” Adam jerked his thumb towards the wall dividing the classroom from the children’s kitchen, where space had been set aside for the candidates to take refuge.
Victor leaped out of his chair. “I bet Youngs got the timetable buggered up—sorry, vicar—and he’s sitting there waiting.”
“Or he’s gone off and left his phone, and that’s why Jennifer can’t get him to answer. Although, how he’s got signal when most of us struggle . . .” Marjorie stared out of the window, as though she was trying to spot him.
Victor rose and headed for the door, raising his voice as he went out. “Don’t bother trying to ring Youngs, Mrs. Shepherd. He’s left his phone in the kitchen. We can hear the bloody thing ringing, and I’m going to go and find out what’s going on.”
“Language, Victor. There are children around, you know,” Neil said as Victor left. He grinned at Adam. “He must be rattled to have sworn twice in as many minutes.”
“How rattled do you have to be to turn the air blue?”
“You should hear me in the shed if I hit my thumb with a hammer! There was once . . .” Neil stopped, as the chair of governors reappeared at the door. “Are you all right, Victor?”
“Um, got a bit of a problem. Neil, could you and Adam give me a hand?” Victor’s face was as pale as if he’d met the school ghost in the corridor.
“Of course.” Neil, unhesitating, followed Victor out the door, and Adam slipped into their wake, intrigued.
The children’s kitchen was barely bigger than a generous broom cupboard, with a door to the corridor and a fire door leading to the field in case the little horrors set their fairy cakes ablaze. The table where the ingredients usually got slaughtered was tucked in an alcove with a bench on either side of it. Only, this time, something else had come to a sticky end there.
Even though there wasn’t any TV-forensic-show-type bloodbath, the man was obviously dead, eyes wide-open and unseeing, body slumped and unmoving. Adam, who’d never been in the presence of sudden death, wasn’t sure if he was going to faint or throw up.
“Should I get Jennifer to call an ambulance?” Victor, transfixed by the corpse, seemed like he might beat Adam to the fainting bit.
“Get Adam to do that.” Neil exuded professional competence, leaning over the body. He gently shook Youngs, got no response, felt for a pulse in his neck, and shook his head.
“He’s not just been taken ill?” Victor asked.
Why did that voice sound so faint? And why had the room started to swim in and out of Adam’s vision?
“Gone, I’m afraid. But I don’t like the appearance of his face, nor the bruising on his neck.” Neil looked up, face ashen. “Be a good chap, Adam, and ask Jennifer to get the police to come, as well. I don’t think this was from natural causes.”
Adam, who’d made the mistake of getting a glimpse of that contorted face, managed to pass the message on before heading for the men’s toilet and losing all his Waitrose sandwiches.
About the Author
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes, MLR, Riptide and Lethe.
She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.
Connect with the Author
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