05 - Mistletoe and Murder

Mistletoe
and Murder

Evelyn
James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©
Evelyn James 2015

 

First
published 2015

Red
Raven Publications

 

The
right of Evelyn James to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted
in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known
or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any
information storage or retrieval system without the permission in writing from
the author

 

Mistletoe and
Murder is the fifth book in the Clara Fitzgerald series

 

Other titles in
the Series:

Memories of the
Dead

Flight of Fancy

Murder in Mink

Carnival of
Criminals

Chapter One

 

Clara Fitzgerald, Brighton’s
first female private detective, had firm views on the paranormal. Namely that
it was all hogwash. Only once in her career as a detective had she been asked
to investigate the supernatural, and that was under great duress. How any
rational person could believe in ghosts defied Clara’s imagination and she made
a point of avoiding cases with even a hint of the supernatural about them. She
had not, for instance, accepted the case of the husband who believed his wife’s
ghost had returned to tell him that her
correct
will was not the one
read out after her funeral. Naturally enough, the woman’s
real
last will
(according to the widower) left everything to her husband and cut out the rest
of her family. The husband wanted an ‘unbiased observer’ to help him find the
real
will as referred to by the ghost. Clara suspected either delusion or fraud and
wisely declined.

On more than one instance
Clara had been contacted due to the mistaken belief that she was a private
detective not just for the living, but also for the dead. She had been asked to
investigate hauntings and the post-mortem claims of deceased relatives. Clara
had politely pointed such letter writers in the direction of those better
equipped to deal with such matters, namely the Society for Psychical Research
(Brighton Division). So when the letter came from London, her first instinct
was to turn it down, but the more Clara read, the more intrigued she became and
the more she felt that here was a real case with flesh and blood suspects and,
of course, living victims.

The letter came on a drizzly
afternoon a week before Christmas. Snow was threatening in the air. Annie, the
Fitzgeralds’ industrious maid, had lain in enough supplies for a siege, let
alone a bout of bad weather. In between feeding the enormous Christmas cake she
had prepared with whisky, she was keeping her eye on the butcher who had
promised her the finest goose he could obtain (but whom she suspected of saying
exactly the same thing to every lady who entered his shop). Tommy Fitzgerald,
Clara’s brother, had a cold and was snuffling his way through
A Christmas
Carol
by Dickens as he sat wrapped in blankets and a scarf by the roaring
fire in the parlour. He had said more than once that morning that he was
convinced he was dying, and that this was the worst cold he had ever had. Clara
had retreated to the garden room after his moans of self-pity had tormented her
for over an hour and was working through her post. She was a neglectful correspondent
and often forgot to read her letters for several days – until they formed a
towering pile on the hall stand that was impossible to ignore.

That was how, amidst the gas
bill and a pamphlet for spring bulbs, she found the letter from Miss Sampford
and her curiosity was peaked.

 

Dear Miss Clara Fitzgerald,

 

Your name was passed to me
through a friend in Brighton who highly commended your abilities. I require
your assistance on a very confusing matter and I dare say you will call me
foolish, but please read this whole letter before discarding my request. My
friend recommended you, for your rational and down-to-earth thinking, which
sounds very much like the sort of person I need right about now.

Let me explain myself a
little further. I am a spinster of 81 years living on my own, very sufficient,
means. For the last 10 years, since the death of my dear mother at the grand
age of nearly 100, I have lived in Berkeley Square, London with a small
household of staff. I have been very happy here and I had hoped to end my days
in this little portion of the world. Unfortunately I feel that may now be
denied me.

I am suffering the torments
of a ghost. Now, I hope you have not thrown this letter down with disgust,
please let me explain. I am a rational, modern individual and therefore I find
myself very hard-pressed to believe in the existence of malicious spirits, yet
the evidence of my own eyes has led me to fear this is the very case. Over the
last six months strange occurrences have been reported in my house by everyone
from servants to friends and neighbours. Five maids have simply up and left,
refusing to stay in this house, now my cook who has been with me these last 24
years is threatening to go to unless the matter is resolved. I was inclined to
discredit the notion myself, until I saw a figure hovering over my bed one
night. I feared a burglar and hastily rang the bell, but almost at once the
figure was gone and I was alone again. Since then I have heard noises, seen
shadows and in general felt very uncomfortable in my own home.

My nephew resides with me
when he is in town and has suggested we call in the Spiritualists, in fact, he
is all for a massive ghost hunt, which gives me quite a thrill of horror being
such a private person. However, something must be done. I fear I have become
overwhelmed by it all and cannot view the matter clearly. I need a rational,
dare I say, cynical mind to examine this matter with fresh eyes. While my
senses see and hear things I cannot believe real, my thoughts still run to the
possibility of a hoax being perpetrated on myself. For what reason, you ask? And
for this I offer two suggestions.

1) A certain gentleman has
expressed a desire to buy my house and has been pestering me on the matter for
the last twelve-month. He has been most insistent and, quite honestly, has
become a nuisance. It occurs to me he may have manufactured a ghost to make it
untenable for me to remain in my home.

2) I mentioned my nephew Elijah
resides here and while I do not perceive any malice in him personally, I am
aware that some of my extended family find my continual good health
troublesome. For instance, my brother’s son, William Henry, now runs the family
estates and my yearly annuity comes from that same estate, as arranged by my
dear late father and intended to support me for all my years. From what little
I have heard I suspect the estate finances are not as abundant as once thought
and my small annuity is seen as a drain on them further. My £500 per annum could
no doubt be better used, in William Henry’s opinion, to sustain his own family.
I have, therefore, come to wonder whether someone would be inclined to try and
scare me to death, as a means of being rid of me. I am no legal mind, but I
assume this would still be deemed murder?

As you see there may be a
very logical and completely corporeal reason for this ghost and for that I need
you to investigate.

I do hope you have read
this far and now I must ask a rather awkward question. I feel there is a need
for urgency and I would much appreciate it if you would come down and stay with
me over the festive period. I ask this firstly because the manifestations I
have described have recently grown more disturbing and secondly because most of
my family will be in London for Christmas and several will be staying with me,
giving you a prime opportunity to investigate them. And lastly because my
nephew has arranged for a rather obnoxious ghost hunter to come down over
Christmas, and I am really not sure I can stand all this talk of spooks and
spectres without another rational and sympathetic human being to talk to.

Please do come for
Christmas, I beg you. I apologise for my desperation, but I really begin to
feel fearful for my life. Bring whomever you desire, I can surely accommodate
them and it is the least consideration I can offer for my sudden disruption of
your Christmas plans. If you could respond as soon as possible I would be most
grateful.

Yours Sincerely

Miss Edith Sampford

 

Clara glanced at the postmark
on the letter; it was dated two days ago. She cursed herself for not opening
her post sooner. Clara did not for one moment believe a ghost had taken up
residence in Miss Sampford’s home, but she did sense something was off in the
household. Perhaps it was just someone making mischief, but could she ignore
Miss Sampford’s fears that much worse was afoot? Clearly the poor woman was
very frightened and feeling distinctly alone in her troubles; that in itself
might make her more susceptible to murderous fears, but could Clara really
dismiss her concerns so lightly? She mused on the matter for a while longer,
watching the dull clouds drift across a bleak sky.

Of course, Annie had made
plans for Christmas and Oliver Bankes, the local photographer, had been asked
for Christmas dinner. But the cake and vegetables would last until New Year’s
and surely any good ghost hunter (especially the sceptical sort) had a
photographer in their arsenal of ‘expert helpers’ these days? Christmas in
London could be quite jolly, the Capital was bound to be buzzing with shoppers,
amusements and other festivities. Clara had always fancied doing her Christmas
shopping in Harrods, perhaps now was that opportunity? In any case, a cry for
help had been issued and Clara did not turn down genuine cries for help.

She rose from her chair and
went to find Tommy.

“What are your views on
ghosts?” She asked the snuffling invalid.

Tommy peered up from reddened
eyes.

“You know them already. I
think spirits are a distinct possibility.”

“And I don’t, so that makes a
perfect partnership. How do you fancy Christmas in London?”

Tommy looked baffled, trying
to take in this sudden change of subject.

“London?”

“A plea for help has come for
me from the Capital. An elderly lady in distress who is being tormented by a
supposed haunting, but which could equally be a malicious hoax. She has
requested my presence at once.”

“Over Christmas?”

“Yes.”

Tommy blew his nose into a
handkerchief.

“And you want me to come?”

“You, Annie, Oliver Bankes
too. We’ll make a regular party of it, and you will all have your roles to
play. Annie will be our eyes and ears in the servants’ quarters, Oliver will
use his knowledge of photography to get evidence that our ghost is very much a
living person and you, as always, will be my first-class assistant and
researcher.”

“Cheers.” Tommy sniffled.

“Well, what do you say?”

Tommy gave a long sigh that
ended in a cough.

“I am assuming my other option
is to stay home alone?”

“Your cold will be better in a
day or two, and then you will enjoy yourself.”

“Where exactly are we going?”

“Berkeley Square.”

“Fine then.” Tommy groaned, “I
suppose I can die there as well as I can die here.”

“No talk of dying around Miss
Sampford, she is a very scared lady. I will speak with Annie and make the
arrangements.”

Clara bustled out before Tommy
could make further comment. She found Annie next and explained the matter.
There was a moment of petulance when Annie realised her Christmas cake,
lovingly tended, would be neglected for a whole week or two, but Clara
compromised by insisting she must bring it along, beautifully iced, to be
shared by all at Berkeley Square. Annie was mostly mollified, admitting that
she had always wondered what the kitchens were like in a posh London household.
As for Oliver Bankes, his first disappointment at learning Clara was heading to
London for Christmas was quickly overridden by his excitement to learn he could
join her. He was even more elated when she explained how he was to act as a
‘spirit photographer’ and use all his tricks of the trade to capture the image
of the ghost, which Clara had now convinced herself was a very inconsiderate
person playing silly beggars. With everyone on-board, there was only one person
left to contact. Fortunately Miss Sampford was on the telephone.

“Hello, is that Miss
Sampford’s residence?”

“Yes, Miss Sampford speaking.”
A strong, un-quavering voice replied. Miss Sampford did not sound like a frail
old woman, nor did she sound in anyway foolish or prone to superstition.

“This is Clara Fitzgerald, I
just received your letter…”

“Oh Miss Fitzgerald! I am so
delighted to hear from you, I was growing concerned. Do say you accept my
invitation to come London?”

There was the desperation so
palpable in the letter.

“I would be delighted to
accept the invitation and to rid you of your most inconsiderate house guest.”

Miss Sampford gave a chuckle.

“It almost sounds as if you
are talking about my nephew, poor dear boy. But I do understand you, will you
come at once?”

“I shall have to make a few
last arrangements, but I would expect to be with you tomorrow.”

“That will be good, this
blasted ghost hunter and his people are due to arrive tomorrow night and with
all my worries I have dreaded facing them alone. The fellow states he is
bringing a ‘team’ of investigators. What on earth can that mean? The only team
we had in my day were those of the horse variety. Perhaps he intends to pull a
carriage through my house!”

Clara found herself smiling,
already warming to Miss Sampford.

“I will be there as soon as I
can. I shall be bringing my brother, a family friend and my maid, if that is
all right? The friend was a Christmas guest who I can hardly turn away.”

“Yes, that is quite all right,
I imagined as much since I requested you at such short notice. It is jolly good
as it might mean turning out a few relatives to the nearest hotel. Doesn’t that
sound awful? I do feel fondly for some of my family, you know.”

“I quite understand Miss
Sampford.”

“Then I shall let you get on.
Goodbye Miss Fitzgerald, I do look forward to seeing you.”

Clara put down the phone
receiver and started a mental list of the things she must pack to ensure she
was fully prepared for the case. Tommy gave a cry from the parlour;

“It just started snowing!”

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