Authors: C.S. Challinor
A Rex Graves Mini-Mystery
C. S. CHALLINOR
Say Goodbye to Archie
: A Rex Graves Mini-Mystery
2013 by C. S. Challinor. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced, including print or Internet usage, without written permission from the author, except for brief quotations for the purpose of critical articles and reviews.
Can Stock Photo, Inc., 2013
Book cover, design, and production by Perfect Pages Literary Management, Inc.
This is a work of fiction with British spelling.
All of the names, characters, places, and events in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, whether living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Rex Graves Mystery Series, published by Midnight Ink Books:
Christmas Is Murder
Murder in the Raw
Phi Beta Murder*
Murder on the Moor
Murder of the Bride
Published by Perfect Pages Literary Management, Inc.:
Murder at the Dolphin Inn
Forthcoming, published by Midnight Ink Books:
Murder at Midnight
For Othello, the inspiration for this story, and also Fred, Tux, and Twinkie
SAY GOODBYE TO ARCHIE
It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that Archie passed away in the early hours of this morning. A small ceremony will be held at the Poplars on Sunday
“You must go, Reginald,” Rex’s mother
said in her genteel Edinburgh dialect. Summer rain spattered the panes behind the net curtains of the front parlour, where they were taking tea. “Archie meant the world to Patricia. And you know I can’t travel that far.”
“Even if we went down by train?”
His mother was terrified of public transport, but driving hundreds of miles in a car
proved even more of a problem for her. Rex really didn’t want to go by himself. He didn’t want to go at all. Patricia Forsyth was a batty old lady, a boarding school chum of his mother’s from before the advent of television. His mother had had him late in life, as had Patricia her own two children.
“No, son, you go on my behalf. I’ll telephone Patricia with my regrets.”
“How old was Archie?”
A good age for a cat. But that won’t help ease her grief. He was her muse and constant companion, her reason for being.”
She has two children, doesn’t she?”
“Constance and Charles,” his mother supplied, buttering a scone.
“I met them once at a funeral.” Rex hadn’t been very taken with them, but then funerals were not the best places to form opinions of people, he supposed.
“In the last letter I received from Patricia, Archie was in fine form and had received a clean bill of health from the veterinarian. So his sudden death has come as a tragic shock to her.”
“Aye, it’s hard to believe he’s gone,” Rex commiserated, helping himself to another cup of tea.
Archie was an institution. He had featured
under an alias in so many illustrated children’s books Rex had lost count. There had been
Claude the Narcissistic Cat, Claude the Contemplative Cat, Claude the Inquisitive Cat, Claude the Clandestine Cat, Claude the Comedic Cat
, and the list had gone on.
, an erstwhile teacher of English at a girls’ private school in Edinburgh, had retired to the warmer climes of the south coast of England, where she lived in a village outside of Eastbourne. Inspired by Archie, she had dreamt up the Claude the Cat series to instruct precocious young children in the use of polysyllabic adjectives. Claude was a multifaceted cat who partook of various adventures reinforcing the meaning of the (insert) descriptive word in the title. The series had become highly popular and lucrative, helped by the winsome portrayal of Claude in elegantly stylized illustrations, not dissimilar to
le Chat Noir
immortalised in posters advertising the late nineteenth century cabaret of that name in Montmartre. By virtue of her beloved pet, Patricia had helped develop the vocabulary of tens of thousands of children in English-speaking countries as far away as New Zealand.
Rex’s mother dabbed at her lips with the white linen napkin. “Patricia said on the phone she feels she can never write another Archie story again.” Everyone knew her all-black, medium-haired domestic breed had served as the model for Claude.
Rex wondered how many alliterative titles could have been left. “Perhaps now she can round off the series with
Claude the Cremated Cat.
” His facetiousness derived mainly from his irritation at having to go all the way to the Sussex coast to attend a pet’s ceremony; not that he was not sympathetic to Patricia’s loss.
His mother, a snowy-haired and tight-lipped lady, dainty as a china doll,
at him across the table.
Rex gave a sigh of contrition. “Don’t think I’m not saddened by Archie’s death. I remember him well even though it’s been years. And don’t worry,” he consoled his mother. “Archie will live on in the books. Patricia Forsyth will be remembered along with Michael Bond and Beatrix Potter, and whoever wrote those stories about Babar the Elephant.”
“But Patricia is not as concerned about immortality as the here and now. She got Archie when her husband died, and he was a great solace to her. All she ever talked aboot was Archie and his latest escapade, although lately it was more his state of health. A stiffness in his joints, his getting more fussy aboot his food, that sort of thing. But nothing major.”
Getting on was no fun for man or beast, Rex reflected, himself middle-aged and showing the signs around his mid-section.
His mother shook her head sadly. “She’ll be at a complete loss now.”
“Perhaps getting another cat to replace him would help?”
“Och, noo!” she protested. “Patricia would never think of it. It would seem like a betrayal. And what makes it worse is she thinks he was murdered!”
Rex choked on a crumb from his scone. “Murdered?” he finally got out. He washed his throat down with tea.
“By someone in the village.”
Rex eyed his mother over the rim of his cup. Now he fully understood her insistence that he travel down to the Poplars in Woodley. He was expected to solve the mystery of a murdered cat!
An allegedly murdered cat. Patricia Forsyth was not only batty but evidently possessed of a morbidly vivid imagination. He was, in effect, being assigned the role of pet detective. He gazed insistently at his mother demurely sipping her tea.
“Well, you needn’t look so cross, Reginald. It’s not as though you had anything important planned for the weekend.”
“That’s the whole point! I was planning to take the weekend off and relax with a good book. It’s been an exceptionally busy week in court and I was hoping to get a break from murders, even those of a feline nature.” He had a sudden thought. “Archie was killed by another cat, right? Or a dog? He got in a fight or was chased into the road and run over by a car?”
“Noo,” his mother exclaimed. “Patricia said he was poisoned. So the question
is, who would wish him dead? I told her you’d be the one to find oot. You can take your book wi’ you on the train,” she said with finality.
Their housekeeper had cut a few slices of Battenberg cake bought from Marks & Spencer’s. Miss Bird didn’t bake as much now that her eyesight was failing. Too much salt had been inadvertently substituted for sugar on many an occasion with disastrous results. Rex cut a piece into four pink and yellow squares and
began by licking off the marzipan.
“Och, Reggie, ye did that when ye were a bairn.” Miss Bird chuckled as she sat down to join them as she habitually did at the end of her work day.
Only at home was he called Reggie and Reginald, detestable names both. As soon as he started Latin in school and learned the declension of the noun “king,” the origin of his name, he had contrived to go by Rex. But Miss Bird apparently still saw the bulky redhead as a lad in short trousers. He wiped his mouth with the starched napkin and brushed away any crumbs on his beard.
“I suppose I had better pack for my trip,” he said pointedly. “See an old lady aboot a cat,” he explained to Miss Bird.
“Patricia will be so glad to see you, Reginald. She always said I had the prince of sons.”
His mother could be very manipulative. “I hope you did not raise her hopes, Mother. It’ll be hard, if not impossible, to prove anyone poisoned Archie.”
“I forgot to tell you! Patricia received a note through her letterbox. It was composed of capital letters cut out of a newspaper. Can ye credit it?” she asked Miss Bird. “This was the day before he was murdered. It said, ‘SAY GOODBYE TO ARCHIE’!”
Rex sat thoughtfully on the early morning train headed south from Waverley Station to Kings Cross in London. In spite of earlier reservations regarding the trip, he felt somewhat heartened by the news of the note. At least now he had a tangible piece of evidence to work with. The first clue. Hopefully, Patricia had kept the note. He wondered if she had shown it to the police and, if so, whether they had taken it seriously. And why not a ransom note instead? Patricia was well off. Abducting the cat and demanding money for its return would have been less callous, relatively speaking, and he felt sure Patricia would have paid up. Obviously the motive for murdering Archie had not been monetary. So what had it been? Spite? Envy?
He continued to ponder. Would reporters be at her home? He supposed he would have to ask
her the usual questions in such a situation: Did Archie have any enemies? Was he acting strangely before his death? Cats had a premonition about death, he had heard. Patricia might have noticed Archie reacting in a negative way towards a particular individual. All these thoughts ran through his brain as fast as the dreary fields and hedgerows streaming past the window as he drank the mediocre coffee provided courtesy of Network Rail. He would get the Eastbourne train from Victoria Station, arriving in Woodley in the early afternoon. How he was supposed to wrap up the case of a murdered muse in two days was the more puzzling mystery as far as he was concerned.
A vista of saffron yellow fields opened up beyond the tracks. The rapeseed in flower, much admired by Japanese tourists, looked artificial against the green countryside. Rex did not feel kindly towards this interference with the landscape. Hopefully, the village of Woodley had retained its traditional charm since he last visited the Poplars with his mother a decade ago. He unfolded the
on his lap and began to read the newsprint, reaching into the pocket of his jacket for his spectacles. He had not needed these a decade ago.
His thoughts kept drifting back to the case of the murdered cat and what, if anything
, the weekend might reveal. The sinister note could have been an unfortunately timed practical joke and coincidental to the alleged poisoning. He retained a few signed copies of the early Claude books at the Morningside house, gifts to his son when Campbell was nine or ten; when his wife was still alive, and before he took silk and became a QC. Seemed like a lifetime ago. He felt a stab of pain for Patricia Forsyth. She’d had Archie for eighteen years, longer than he had known Fiona, who had died of breast cancer. He seemed to remember Patricia had rescued Archie from a cat shelter on the advice of her doctor when she was mourning the loss of her husband. Archie had been a young cat then, not much more than a kitten. How cruel of someone to deprive her of one extra year or more of his life; if, in fact, the cat had been murdered. It seemed a bit far-fetched, in his opinion. He had called his fiancée to tell her about his latest private case and she’d been hugely amused, in spite of a natural empathy for the old lady.
Helen was a student counsellor and had a degree in psychology. He wished he could have taken the opportunity to visit her in Derby while he was in England, but she was attending a weekend course in Manchester.
“Well, this is a new departure for you, Rex, I must say,” she had said the previous night. “But I hope you catch Archie’s killer. People who kill animals often progress to murdering people.”
Patricia had offered to send a friend to meet Rex off the train, but he had said on the phone he would avail himself of a taxi. Woodley was but a short drive from Eastbourne, a Victorian seaside resort that had seen better days. Yet, viewing the village of Woodley again after so many years, he found it barely changed. The white manor house stood on a hill lording it over the other residences, stone and brick homes and converted barns, nestled in a valley surrounded by woods, with the one road leading through to a dead end in front of the Poplars—so named for a line of such trees fronting the property, which at present waved in the soft breeze. He paid the cab fare and pushed open the black wrought-iron gate, which he noticed did not have a lock, and strolled with his overnight bag up the path cutting through the lawn to the front door. This was painted green to match the trim of the cottage. He rang the bell and the door opened almost instantaneously.
“Reginald, my dear boy!
Come in.” Patricia Forsyth was large-boned and still hearty for her octogenarian years. Her white hair had apparently not been acquainted with a pair of scissors in several days and stuck out every which way, and her spectacles sat askew on her nose. “So glad you made good time. That will give us an hour or so to sit and chat before the others arrive for tea.” Her voice attested to her Scottish heritage. “Did you have lunch?” she enquired.
“I grabbed a sandwich at the station in London.”