Read Tragedy at Two Online

Authors: Ann Purser

Tragedy at Two

Table of Contents
Titles by Ann Purser
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Ann Purser.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eISBN : 978-1-101-15169-3
1. Meade, Lois (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction.
3. Country life—England—Fiction. 4. England—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6066.U758T73 2009

For Emily,
who brightens our lives.
EXOTIC GYPSY GIRLS IN BRIGHT, SWIRLING SKIRTS AND FLASHING gold coin necklaces stamped to the dancing rhythms of music played by a swarthy young man on a lively fiddle. Lois Meade looked across at her husband, Derek, and her mother, both sound asleep in the sitting room, in spite of the television. She smiled and got silently to her feet. She would take just a few steps. . . . She swayed to the beat, and her feet began to move.
Derek and Gran slept on. Lois lifted her arms and began to circle the furniture. She hummed the tune, now wilder and faster. There was excitement and danger in it, and the promise of something wonderfully triumphant. As she twirled around the sofa, she had her eyes shut in imagined ecstasy. And so tripped over Derek’s feet.
“You all right, gel?” he said, rubbing his eyes. “We don’t want that ruddy noise, do we,” he said, and pressed the off button.
LOIS MEADE WAS A SENSIBLE MOTHER OF TWO GROWN-UP SONS and one daughter, and lived in Long Farnden, a small village in the heart of England. She had been born in the nearby town of Tresham, married Derek, an electrician, and having left school as soon as possible with zero qualifications, she had become a cleaner, choosing jobs outside town, in the villages around.
Lois was ambitious, provided there was no studying involved, and she and Derek scraped up enough money for the mortgage on a solid, substantial house that had belonged to one of her clients in Long Farnden. Here she set up a cleaning business, wittily named New Brooms. “We Sweep Cleaner” was the motto emblazoned on her white van. The business had taken off, and though Lois continued to have weekly staff meetings in her office at home, she was soon able to rent a main office in Tresham.
All very praiseworthy and straightforward. But Lois had been a rebel in her youth, and had even spent a night in a police station cell for refusing to give her correct name and details when she and her gang had been picked up for disorderly behaviour. She had quite cheerfully admitted that she carried a knife for self-protection in a school that had a reputation for being rough.
Now a law-abiding wife and mother, she still sometimes had a rebellious itch, needing the excitement that came from sailing close to the wind. For a few years now, she had been involved in gathering information helpful to the law.
In other words, she was an informer, working with the police. But not quite that, she would be at pains to point out. An amateur sleuth would be more accurate. She took no money, worked only on cases that interested her, or—as in her last involvement—where her own family was in danger. And probably the greatest incentive, she would be loath to admit, was that she worked only with Detective Chief Inspector Hunter Cowgill.
At the moment, she was having a fallow period. No ferretin’, as Derek called it. She had only the efficient organising of her business to think about. Her team of cleaners, including one young man who also took on interior décor commissions, was handpicked and knew their jobs inside out. All gathered at a meeting once a week at Lois’s house, and Hazel, one of the longest serving, manned the office in Tresham.
“I was enjoying that,” Lois said now, frowning at Derek. “It’s me gypsy blood.”
“What gypsy blood?” Gran said sharply. She had an uncanny knack of being able to listen when apparently asleep. “There’s no tinkers in our family!”
Derek laughed. “What about Lois’s dad?” he teased. “He had dark skin and that nose he’s passed on to our Douglas. Definitely a gyppo’s nose, that.” He got to his feet and went over to help Gran to her feet. “Come on,” he said, “time we all went to bye-byes.”
Lois sniffed. “Time you stopped saying that,” she snapped. “We got no children now, don’t forget.”
“Ah,” said Gran, “but it might not be long.”
“I’m off,” said Lois, but Derek stared at Gran.
“You know something I don’t?” he said.
“Douglas and Susie, o’ course.”
“Blimey, they’re not wed yet. Give ’em a chance.”
Derek went to the window to draw the curtains back ready for morning. “Hey, Lois!” he called. “Come down here. Something’s going on outside!” He put out the lights, and the three of them stood at the window, peering out. A car had drawn up outside their gate, and the interior light was on. A man was speaking on a mobile phone. Then he began to get out of the car, and Lois caught her breath. As the door opened, she saw who it was.
“It’s him!” she said. “What a cheek, at this time of night! It’s Hunter Cowgill. Come on, let’s creep upstairs and pretend we’re asleep. Quick, Gran! He’s coming up the drive.”
By the time the soft knocking began at the door, Gran was safely in her room, and Lois sat hand in hand with Derek on the top stair.
Cowgill did not go away. He knocked louder, and then called through the letter box. “Sorry, Lois, but it’s urgent. Derek? Could you open up for a minute?”
Lois put her finger to her lips and turned to Derek. He was making a strange face, his eyes half-closed. Then he sneezed, twice, muffled as best he could. Then, after a loud gasp, a final explosion at full volume.
Lois got wearily to her feet. “It’s a fair cop,” she said to Cowgill as she opened the door. “You’d better come in.”

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