Aunt Bessie Joins (An Isle of Man Cozy Mystery Book 10)

Aunt Bessie Joins

 

An Isle of Man Cozy Mystery

 
 
 

Diana
Xarissa

 

Text
Copyright
©
2016 Diana
Xarissa

Cover
Photo Copyright
©
2016 Kevin
Moughtin

 

All Rights Reserved

 

For all of the volunteers that help
non-profit groups around the world.
 
They
work tirelessly on committees and for organizations that wouldn’t be able to do
all the good that they do without them.

Author’s Note

 

As this is the tenth book in the Aunt Bessie
series, I feel as if there is very little I need to say here.
 
If you haven’t read any of the previous
books, I always recommend that you do read them in order so that you can follow
the changes and challenges in the characters’ lives.
 
Each story is designed to stand on its
own, however, if you prefer to just read a single title.

If this is your first “Bessie” story, you
should know that Bessie first appeared in my Isle of Man Romance,
Island
Inheritance
.
 
She provided
the inheritance that brought the heroine of that story to the island.
 
 
Being that she was already dead when that
book began, the mysteries are set about fifteen years before the romance,
beginning circa 1998.
 
There are
characters that appear in both series, so if you decide to read one of the
romances, you may
recognise
one or two people you
encounter.

As the books are set in the Isle of Man, I
use British spellings and terminology for the most part; some Americanisms have
probably snuck in, as I now live in the US.
 
I also try to include a few words of
Manx in every book.
 
There are
translations and explanations at the back of the book for readers in other
parts of the world.

This is a work of fiction.
 
All of the characters are a product of
the author’s imagination.
 
Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
 
Similarly, the names of the restaurants
and shops and other businesses on the island are fictional.
 
I’ve also taken considerable liberties
with locations within the story, adding fictional shops and restaurants where
they are convenient to the story rather than where any shops actually exist.

The historical sites and other landmarks on
the island are all real; however, all of the events that take place within them
in this story are fictional.
 
 
Castle
Rushen
is an incredibly beautiful medieval castle in what was once the island’s
capital city,
Castletown
.
 
A photo of the castle appears on the
cover of the book.
 
“Christmas at
the Castle” is an entirely made-up event that also appears in the romance
Island
Christmas
.
 

I can’t ever say enough about the hard-working
and wonderful people who work for the real Manx National Heritage on the
island.
 
My characters
who
work for MNH are fictional, however.

The island is a unique and fascinating
place; one that I hope to visit again very soon.

 

Chapter One

“No, no, this is all wrong,” the man
shouted, waving his arms and stomping his feet.
 
“I said mauve.
 
This is a sort of purple-red that simply
won’t do at all.”

Bessie bit her tongue and counted to ten
before she opened her mouth.
 
She
was quite old enough to have learned how to deal with unpleasant and demanding
people.
 
“Of course,” she murmured.
 
“We’ll get it taken care of right
away.
 
It will be fixed by this
afternoon.”

“See that is,” the man snapped at her.
 

“You go and tour the rest of the castle,”
Bessie told him.
 
“Mark will be
waiting for you right inside the first doorway.
 
I’ll work with Laura to get this sorted.”

The man made a derisory sound and then
stomped across the courtyard and into the main castle building.
 
He was short, about Bessie’s height, so
only a few inches over five feet tall.
 
He wore his brown hair in a long ponytail, but it was obviously thinning
on top.
 
His clothes seemed to have
been chosen at random.
 
His trousers
were a vibrant red and green plaid with a silver thread running through
it.
 
The jumper he’d paired with
them was orange, and the whole effect was almost headache inducing, at least as
far as Bessie was concerned.

Bessie followed a short distance behind him,
holding up her hand to stop Laura from speaking.
 
It was only when Bessie heard the man
arguing loudly with Mark Blake, Manx National Heritage’s head of special
projects, that
she stepped back and smiled at the other
woman.

“Bessie, it took three days to put up all of
these decorations,” Laura began.
 
“We don’t have the time or the staff to redo the whole thing before the
grand opening on Friday, even if we had different decorations to put up.”

“It’s fine,” Bessie assured her.
 
“It’s a beautiful sunny morning, but
it’s going to rain this afternoon.
 
By the time Mark finishes showing Mr. Hart around the castle and they’ve
enjoy the lunch that Mark has arranged in the banquet room, it should be
pouring.
 
When they come back
through here, the ornaments will look a totally different
colour
,
and I’m wiling to bet Mr. Hart won’t hang around in the pouring rain to inspect
them anyway.
 
Get Henry to move a
few of the larger pieces around and when Mr. Hart comes back through, we can
say we hope he likes things better now, without actually saying what we’ve
changed.”

“It’s a good idea,” Laura said.
 
“But I’m not sure it will work.”

Bessie took down the nearest bauble and held
it out to Laura.
 
“Look how
different this looks in sun and in shade,” she said as she moved the ornament
in and out of the light.
 
“I actually
noticed it the other day when I came through.
 
The whole courtyard looks much more
purple in the morning and much more red in the afternoon.”

“But when does it look mauve?” Laura asked.

Bessie laughed.
 
“Whenever Mr. Hart is here,” she said
firmly.

 
Laura
laughed too, but nervously.
 
“I’ll
get Henry,” she said, heading towards the ticket booth.

Bessie watched her go with a smile on her
face.
 
Laura had only been on the
island a short time, but Bessie had been working with her for nearly all of
that time on Manx National Heritage’s new fundraising event, “Christmas at the
Castle.”
 
Bessie was a volunteer,
talked into joining the planning committee for the event by Mark Blake, while
Laura was a member of MNH’s staff, but the pair worked well together and Bessie
was enjoying getting to know the pretty, shy, and bright woman.
 

Laura was back a few minutes later with
Henry in tow.
 
“I should have known
it was all going too well,” Henry said, shaking his head.
 
“We finished the decorating out here
last week.
 
I should have known we’d
have to redo it.”

Bessie smiled at the man.
 
In his mid-fifties, Henry had worked for
Manx National Heritage since he’d left school.
 
His grey hair was now thinning and his
brown eyes needed glasses, but he still had as much enthusiasm for the island’s
history as ever.
 
Lately, he also
seemed to be developing some enthusiasm for Laura, and Bessie was watching
their relationship closely, not wanting to see her old friend get hurt.
 

“Laura said Mr. Hart wants all of the
decorations out here changed,” Henry said.
 
“We don’t have time for that.”

“We don’t have to change them all,” Bessie
said soothingly.
 
“We’ll move a few
pieces around and make sure he doesn’t come back through until it clouds
over.
 
I’m sure he’ll see things
differently when the light changes.”

“I hope you’re right,” Henry said, doubt in
his voice.
 
“Mr. Hart seems, well,
he’s quite demanding.
 
I found that
out when I made him a
cuppa
.”

“Don’t you worry about Mr. Hart,” Bessie
said with confidence she didn’t feel.
 
“If he gets too demanding, the committee will handle it.”

Henry and Laura exchanged glances that
suggested to Bessie that they didn’t put much stock in the committee’s ability
to deal with Christopher Hart and his demands.
 
She didn’t bother to argue, as she knew
they were probably right.
 

A moment later, a young man with a ladder
joined them.
 
Under Bessie’s
direction, he moved several of the largest and most eye-catching of the
decorations from one location to another.
 
After about an hour, Bessie shrugged.
 

“It looks different, anyway,” she said,
thanking the man for his help.
 
“I
just hope it makes Mr. Hart happy.”

“That’s not likely,” Henry said sourly.
 
He’d just rejoined Bessie and Laura as
Bessie spoke.
 
“He was complaining
constantly when I was up there,” he said, gesturing towards the large medieval
castle.
 
“He doesn’t like any of the
rooms.”

“I’m not sure I care what he thinks,” Bessie
replied.
 
“The charities were
permitted to decorate in any way they chose.
 
It isn’t his place to tell them what
they can or can’t do.
 
He’s just
meant to be making sure the whole thing ties together, whatever that means.”

“What does that mean?” Laura asked.
 

Bessie smiled at the fifty-something
brunette and then shook her head.
 
“I wish I knew,” she said.
 
“Carolyn
Teare
was the person who thought we needed a
professional designer to, quote ‘bring the whole project together under one
unified festive coherence,’ end of quote.”

“I’m surprised she managed to talk the rest
of you into hiring him,” Laura said.

“Oh, she hired him,” Bessie told her.
 
“She’s paying for his time as a donation
towards the event.
 
The committee
couldn’t find a polite way to say no, really.”

“You should have tried harder,” Henry
muttered.

Bessie laughed.
 
“It will all work out in the end,” she
said with pretend confidence.
 
“He’s
only here for a few days, after all.”

“He won’t be here for the grand opening on
Friday?” Laura asked.

“No, he’s far too busy to spend more than a
day or two here,” Bessie replied.
 
“I think he’s meant to be flying back to London on Wednesday.
 
I understand he’s starting to film a new
television series on Monday next week.”

“What sort of television series?” Henry
wanted to know.

“I’m hardly the one to ask,” Bessie
said.
 
She’d never owned a
television in her life and she didn’t feel as if she’d missed anything as
yet.
 
“Carolyn said something about
a new series about designing the perfect bedroom or something.
 
I wasn’t really paying attention, but
apparently home makeover shows are very popular right now.”

“They are,” Laura confirmed.
 
“I love watching them, although I’m not brave
enough to actually try to recreate any of their designs.”

“It’s all a lot of fuss for nothing,” Henry
said grumpily.
 
“As long as you have
a roof over your head, what does it matter what
colour
your walls are?”

“Oh, goodness, is that the time?” Bessie
exclaimed.
 
“I need to get cleaned
up for lunch.”

“I’m helping to serve,” Laura told her.
 
“I’d better get ready as well.”

“I’m going to find a quiet corner and have
my sandwich,” Henry told them both.
 
“If you need anything, ring my mobile.”

“You take a proper break,” Laura said
firmly.
 
“Switch off
your
mobile and enjoy the peace and quiet.
 
I’m sure the museum will be just fine
for half an hour.”

Henry flushed.
 
“I won’t switch off, just in case it’s
you who needs me,” he told Laura.

She patted his arm and then, after a shy
glance at Bessie, kissed his cheek.
 
“Enjoy your break,” she whispered.
 
“We’ll eat better tonight.”

“We certainly will,” Henry said with a
bright smile.

“I’m making shepherd’s pie tonight,” Laura
told Bessie as the two women walked across the courtyard towards the castle’s
staff rooms.
 
“Henry really loves my
cooking.
 
Although I think we’re
both enjoying it rather too much at the moment.”
 
The woman patted her hip and gave Bessie
a rueful smile.
 
“I did promise him
apple crumble as well.”

“Henry seems happier than he has in years,”
Bessie told the other woman.
 
“If
happiness adds a few pounds, it seems worth it.”

“I’m afraid it’s adding more than a few,
though,” Laura said.
 
“I’m going to
have to start watching things after the holidays, or I’ll have to start buying
bigger clothes.”

Bessie had always been slender, and aging
hadn’t changed that.
 
She credited
her daily walks on the beach outside her cottage for her continued good health
and fitness, even in what she considered “late middle age.”
 
No one she knew was certain exactly how
old she really was, and she wasn’t about to tell.
 

A short time later, having changed out of
her working clothes and into a skirt and jumper, Bessie washed her hands and
then added a touch of powder and some lipstick to her face.
 
“You’ll do,” she told her reflection.
 
The grey-haired woman in the mirror
smiled and then winked a grey eye at her.

She made her way through the
castle,
unable to stop herself from admiring the many
beautifully decorated rooms as she went.
 
Castle
Rushen
had been originally been
constructed in the twelfth or thirteenth century, although it had been added to
and changed over the years.
 
The
thick limestone walls always had Bessie wondering about the men who had
originally been tasked with moving them into place.
 
The castle was divided into many small
rooms, some of which had served as prison cells during the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.
 
Now these
tiny, cold and dark rooms glowed with fairy lights and
colourful
decorations, making the entire building feel almost magical to Bessie.

“I must remember to thank Mark for asking me
to join the planning committee for this,” she said to herself as she walked
through one of the larger spaces that was stuffed almost full with Christmas
trees.
 
The ones nearest the
entrance doorway were entirely covered in red decorations.
 
As you walked through, you journeyed
along a rainbow, so that by the time you reached the exit, the trees were all
covered in beautiful violet baubles and ribbons.
 
Bessie knew she would have visited the
event even if she hadn’t been involved in the planning, but she loved feeling
like an insider at such a very special happening.

“I don’t eat meat,” Christopher Hart was
saying as Bessie walked into the banquet room.
 
“Or flour or dairy.”

“I’ll have to talk to the chef,” Mark Blake
said tightly.

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