Murder at the Cathedral- Frances Evesham (Digital Sample)

Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘Murder at the Cathedral’ by Frances Evesham.

MURDER AT THE CATHEDRAL

FRANCES EVESHAM

CHAPTER ONE

Cathedral café

Libby Forest and the enormous sheepdog, Bear, climbed the steep street to Wells Cathedral. With no cats to chase, Bear turned his attention to the human passers-by and tried to plant a slobbery, doggy kiss on each face. Libby’s cheeks flamed with embarrassment as she steered the animal through Penniless Porch, the archway leading to the green lawn in front of the cathedral. ‘I almost wish I hadn’t agreed to look after you. The sooner Max gets home and takes you back, the better.’ No need to tell Bear how much she loved having him with her as she visited the beauty spots of Somerset.

The duo of walkers paused at last, Libby’s eyes drawn to the statues carved on the building’s stunning West Front. She raised a warning finger at the wriggling dog. ‘You’re on your best behaviour.’ The last thing she needed was a spat with Louis, the cathedral cat, and there was nothing Bear enjoyed more than chasing cats. He made an exception only for Fuzzy, Libby’s aloof marmalade cat, who’d turned out to be Bear’s soulmate. The pair liked curling up together in as small a space as possible and dozing the hours away.

They navigated the spiral stairs to the café without incident and Libby poked her head round the door. Conversations buzzed amid enticing smells of cake and spice, but Libby was immune to food. Cakes and chocolates were her business, and she spent most days mixing and tasting, surrounded by sugar. On a rare free morning she stuck to coffee.

She spotted Angela Miles at once. Immaculate grey locks teased into a neat French Pleat, pearl earrings dangling from tiny ears, her friend raised a leather-gloved hand in welcome. Libby tugged at her thatch of damp brown hair. She should have visited the hairdresser weeks ago.

Pulling a dog treat from the jumble in a pocket of her parka, she bribed Bear to lie down under the table. Angela stirred a steaming cup of coffee. ‘So, your son’s getting married in the cathedral? How wonderful.’

‘Isn’t it? His fiancée, Sarah, has family connections; her mother grew up two streets away. Even so, they were lucky to find a vacant date for the wedding. The cathedral gets booked up in the summer, but there’s a cancellation in June. At least the weather will be warmer. I’m tired of winter…’

Angela’s attention had drifted. Libby, intrigued, followed the direction of her friend’s gaze. A familiar figure occupied a table in the corner with her back to the room. Even at a distance, the back-combed haystack of black hair was unmistakable. Libby would recognise Mandy, her lodger and apprentice, anywhere.

She rose to wave. ‘Hey, Mandy…’

Angela tugged her arm. ‘Shh. Don’t interrupt. Mandy hasn’t seen us and she’s having a row with Steve.’

That young man, Angela’s nephew and Mandy’s boyfriend, sported spiky, dyed-black hair and a tight t-shirt. He banged a fork on the table. ‘Suit yourself,’ he snapped, face red and angry.

Libby’s eyes met Angela’s. ‘We shouldn’t eavesdrop.’ They turned away, full of good intentions, trying to carry on a conversation, but the fight proved irresistible. At last, they gave themselves up to unashamed eavesdropping.

Steve’s romance with Mandy had lasted almost a year, even surviving his move from Wells Cathedral School to study music at the Royal College of Music in London, but the relationship looked under strain, today.

Libby caught fragments of angry whispers. ‘You could if you wanted to,’ Steve hissed.

Mandy wailed, ‘You don’t even try to understand…’

To Libby’s disappointment, she missed the rest and, succumbing to guilt, dragged her attention back to the reason she and Angela had arranged to meet. From the depths of her bag she retrieved sketches for the bride’s wedding dress, samples of lace, and lists of guests. ‘She hasn’t made her mind up yet, so people can see the sketches – apart from Robert, of course. Sarah tells me it’s unlucky for the groom to see the dress before the wedding.’

Angela settled a pair of reading glasses on her nose, leaned both elbows on the table and examined the plans, cooing with approval. ‘What a gorgeous dress. I love a fishtail, don’t you? Sarah will look stunning.’

She sat back. ‘Now, tell me about the cake. That’s your department, isn’t it? What are you going to make? Sponge cake? Fruit? How many tiers? I bet you can’t wait to start.’

Libby avoided her friend’s eye. ‘They want cheese.’

‘Cheesecake? That’s unusual, but I suppose you could make it look good―’

‘Not cheesecake. Cheese. Three different varieties, all produced in Somerset. Cheddar, Brie and – er – Buffalo. One for each layer of the cake. Sarah’s father’s a dairy farmer.’

Angela’s eyes opened wide. ‘So, you won’t be icing the biggest and best wedding cake in Somerset, after all?’

‘No; and I had such plans…’

Their laughter died as Mandy’s voice rose. ‘Don’t you dare call me a stupid child. I’ve got, like, a job, you know. I can’t come running down to London every time you snap your fingers. Why don’t you ask your friend, Alice. She’ll be there in a second.’

A hush fell throughout the café, half embarrassed and half expectant. Mandy threw a handful of coins on the table and stamped out. Steve scrambled to his feet as if to give chase, but stopped, hesitated as though making his mind up, and flopped back into the chair.

Angela peered over the rim of her reading glasses, muttering under her breath, ‘Follow her, Steve, you idiot,’ but the young man sipped coffee, as though quite unaware he was the centre of attention. Only a spot of pink on each cheek gave the game away.

Angela sighed. ‘That’ll teach me to eavesdrop. I was hoping they’d stay together for good and maybe even get married. I know they’re young, but they seemed so happy.’

Libby sorted the wedding plans into a pile. ‘D’you think that’s the end of the relationship? Perhaps they’re not as well suited as we thought.’ Mandy had seemed to be on cloud nine recently. ‘It’s a shame, but they’re still young. Living so far from each other must be a strain.’

She put her papers back in the bag. ‘I remember Alice. I met her one day at your house. Very glamorous and a musician, like Steve.’ She shrugged. ‘Maybe she’s a better match for him, but I’m sorry for Mandy. It seems her heart’s about to be broken.’

Angela rearranged packets of sugar in the flower-painted china container. ‘Look at us, worrying about Steve and Mandy as if they’re our children.’

‘Mandy’s almost a third child to me, now Ali and Robert have grown up and left home. She’s tidier around the house than they ever were, though.’

Angela looked thoughtful. ‘I never had children of my own. Didn’t think I had maternal instincts until Steve’s motorbike accident. That hit me for six.’

‘You were like a tiger with her cub,’ Libby recalled, ‘and you spent every day at the hospital until you were certain he’d recover.’

Angela laughed. ‘I suppose you never stop wanting to look after them, do you? No matter how old they are.’

The excitement died away, the café returned to its normal state of soporific calm, and Bear rested his head on Libby’s lap, eyes pleading for treats. As she tickled his favourite spot, just behind a front leg, Angela’s phone rang.

She made an apologetic face. ‘Sorry, do you mind if I take it? It’s the verger. I expect he’s calling about my shift this afternoon.’ Angela worked in the cathedral as a volunteer guide.

She answered the phone with a cheery ‘Hello,’ but a second later, the smile froze on her face. Colour drained from both cheeks, leaving Angela looking pale and shocked. Her lips moved, but no sound came. Her eyes flickered.

Libby put out a hand, afraid her friend was about to faint, but Angela recovered enough to talk. ‘Are you sure? It can’t be true – I mean – it was only yesterday…’

Her hand shook and the phone fell, spinning and rattling, onto the floor.

‘Is everything OK?’ Libby bit her lip at such crassness. What a stupid thing to say when it was blindingly obvious things were very far from OK.

Angela was mumbling, shaking her head. ‘It’s dreadful. I can’t believe it…’ She gasped for air.

Libby squeezed her elbow. ‘Breathe out, now. Slowly.’ Angela shuddered, regaining control. ‘That’s better. Now, tell me. What’s happened?’

‘It’s Giles – Giles Temple – he’s been working at the cathedral library.’ Libby had never met Mr Temple, but Angela had spoken of him once or twice. Whenever she mentioned his name, her cheeks turned a delicate shade of pink.

‘What about him?’

‘He’s – he’s had an accident.’

‘Is it serious?’

Angela nodded, lips quivering. ‘Very. I’m afraid he’s dead.’

 

CHAPTER TWO

Librarian

‘Is your friend ill?’ One of the women serving at the counter hurried across the room, sympathy in her eyes.

‘She’s had a nasty shock.’ Libby avoided going into details. Soon enough, everyone working in the cathedral would know about Giles Temple’s death.

‘Well, she’d better have a cup of tea, that’s my advice. It’s the best remedy for shock. Poor Mrs Miles. I’ve seen her many time, working in the cathedral. Very kind, she is. Couldn’t be nicer. No airs and graces, like some folks working at the cathedral.’

The woman bustled about, bringing a pot and cups on a tray. Libby, with superhuman self-control, asked no questions of Angela as she poured tea, added milk and several spoons of sugar, and waited until her friend drank every drop.

As Angela settled the empty cup back in its saucer, hands still shaking, a touch of colour returned to her cheeks. The threat of a fainting fit gradually receded, and Libby gave way to curiosity. ‘Now, give me the facts. What happened?’

‘The librarian found Giles this morning when he opened the room. He’d been—’ Angela swallowed and finished in a rush, ‘He’d been strangled. With a chain.’

‘Strangled? You mean, accidentally?’ Not another suspicious death in Somerset, surely. ‘What do you mean by a chain? Some sort of necklace?’

Angela shook her head, as though trying to clear it. ‘No, it’s a chained library, you see. The chains are attached to valuable books and bolted to the shelves to prevent anyone wandering off with a priceless volume. So many books in the library are irreplaceable.’

Her high-pitched laugh sounded dangerously close to hysteria.

Libby concentrated, determined not to miss a single word as Angela explained. ‘There are keys, you see. One locks the gate to the library, and another attaches each chain to a book.’

Tears glittered in Angela’s eyes. Libby, horrified as she was, couldn’t help a familiar spasm of excitement in her stomach. She felt it at the beginning of each of her amateur investigations, and every time she’d succeeded in uncovering the criminal. ‘And one of the chains was used to strangle the victim?’ Libby winced as the shocking image took shape in her head.

‘Apparently. It happened last night. Giles was working late; he often did…’ Angela picked at a tissue, pulling it to shreds.

Libby sipped the dregs of cold tea left in her cup, trying to make sense of the information. ‘Are all the books chained?’

‘Only those from before the eighteenth century.’ Talking about the details of the library arrangements had a calming effect on Angela, so Libby let her talk. At least her teeth had stopped chattering. ‘You know, early copies of the King James version of the Bible, illuminated manuscripts from the sixteenth century, books of maps, translations of religious books into different languages. All that sort of thing…’

Angela screwed the remains of the tissue into a ball, looked around for somewhere to put it, opened her handbag and dropped it inside.

‘Which book did the chain in question come from?’

Angela blinked. ‘I’ve no idea. Does it matter? Giles was a historian, so I expect the book was part of his research.’

‘I bet Chief Inspector Arnold will be holding a press conference,’ Libby murmured. ‘Nothing he likes more than seeing his name in the papers and his face on the screen, and the national press will love this story. In fact, it’s probably on the internet already.’ Libby fell silent but her pulse raced. Another suspicious death in Somerset!

‘There’s more.’ Angela fiddled with the strap of her bag.

‘Go on.’

‘They found something else. An object at – at the scene.’

‘Come again?’

‘A knitted scarf.’

Libby puffed air through her lips. ‘Anything special about it?’

Angela’s gaze faltered. She avoided Libby’s face and focused on her own clenched hands, where the knuckles gleamed white. At last, she took a shaky breath and whispered, ‘Hand-knitted in orange wool.’

Libby opened her mouth but closed it again. Was a hand-knitted scarf significant? It was winter after all. Everyone wore scarves and hats. On the other hand, how often did a man willingly wear a hand-knitted garment, especially a bright orange one? Most males never learned to knit, though a few did, of course. Fishermen; they were famous for it. And hadn’t one Archbishop of Canterbury knitted jumpers? Still, he was the exception, rather than the rule. Most men wore hand-knitting only when the garment was made by a wife, girlfriend, or mother. In other words, a present, and one they felt duty bound to use.

Angela’s reaction struck Libby as odd. Still pale and distressed, she seemed suddenly embarrassed. Could it be that Giles Temple’s scarf was not a present from his wife? If her suspicion was right, it suggested a whole area of enquiry.

‘Come on,’ Libby said, keeping her tone gentle, for Angela was still pale and distressed. ‘You can tell me. You know something about this scarf, don’t you? Where did it come from?’

Angela looked Libby in the eye, suddenly defiant. ‘We’ve been making scarves at the Knitters’ Guild. Scarves, hats and gloves, but mostly, knitted squares. We’re planning to yarnbomb Wells, but it’s a secret. We don’t want everyone in town to know about it. It would spoil the surprise.’

‘Yarnbombing? What on earth…’ Libby tapped a finger against her teeth, struggling to recall an article she’d read. ‘Yarnbombing. Wait. Don’t tell me. I know I’ve heard of it.’ Angela managed a weak smile while Libby pondered.

The penny dropped. ‘Got it.’ Libby said. ‘You drape lamp-posts and trees with knitted things.’

‘Brightly coloured knitting, yes. It’s supposed to cheer everyone up, so we thought this was a good time of year to try it, before spring arrives. Folk feel miserable in February, and it feels as though it will never be warm again.

‘And the Wells event is also meant to celebrate the completion of renovations at the cathedral.’ Scaffolding had obscured the West Front of Wells Cathedral for many months.

‘Had Giles Temple heard about your plans?’

‘Oh, yes; as have most of the staff at the cathedral, but they’ve been sworn to secrecy. Even the Dean’s given it his blessing. Orange is one of the main colours we’re using because it’s bright.’

‘It’s not the only explanation,’ Libby murmured, thinking aloud, ‘but quite possibly, someone in the Guild knows Giles well and knitted a scarf for him.’ She shot a sharp look at Angela, but her friend made no reply.

***

Angela, restored to calm, pronounced herself ready to leave the café, so the two friends and Bear clattered downstairs, the dog panting and waving his tail, already scenting exciting smells from the outside world.

Too late, Libby spotted a pile of books making its way up the stairs, apparently under its own steam. She tugged on the dog’s lead. Bear skidded to a halt, but the man underneath the books panicked, tried to back away, lost his footing and grabbed at the handrail. The stack of books, magazines and documents exploded from his flailing arms and rocketed high in the air.

Libby watched, knuckles jammed against her mouth, as leather covered books thudded on the floor. A storm of loose papers followed, fluttering in ghastly slow motion to blanket the flagstones. Bear barked, delighted by the new game.

Angela shrieked. ‘Dr Phillips, I’m so sorry…’ She bent to retrieve a book, smoothing its Moroccan leather spine. Libby, mortified, shot a look at Bear that sent the animal’s tail between his legs, and stooped to help.

‘My books, my books,’ the man stammered, breathlessly. ‘What a day. Oh, my goodness me, what a terrible day.’

Angela examined the one in her hands. ‘I don’t think this one’s damaged.’

The man stopped collecting paper long enough to glare at Libby through pebble spectacles. ‘That dog of yours…’

‘I know.’ She was contrite. ‘I’m sorry. He’s a bit excited…’ She stopped talking. Really, there was no excuse.

Angela intervened. ‘Libby, this is Dr Phillips, the librarian.’ Libby, far too flustered to listen properly, barely registered the words.

‘We won’t shake hands.’ Dr Phillips drew bushy brows together, raising himself to his full height, the shiny top of a bald head barely reaching Libby’s shoulder.

‘I’m so very sorry,’ Libby stammered. Bear wagged an enthusiastic tail, trying to attract this new friend’s attention.

‘Just move that animal out of the way and let me pass.’

The significance of the pile of books and Angela’s introduction finally filtered into Libby’s brain. ‘You’re the librarian?’ One of the first people Libby would want to talk to, for Giles had died in Dr Phillips’ domain.

‘Of course. Who might you be? Wait…’ He juggled books and pointed with a bony finger. ‘I recognise that dog. Biggest in Somerset, I bet. It belongs to Max Ramshore, doesn’t it? That makes you Mrs Forest, the lady who solves mysteries.’

‘Call me Libby.’

He ignored that. ‘Today is a very bad day.’ His wagged a gloomy head. ‘We’ve had a serious incident.’

‘The verger told us about it.’

‘It’s a most dreadful business. Nothing like it has ever happened before. You can’t go inside, you know. The police have removed the – er – body, but access to the cathedral is strictly limited. The whole area’s smothered in ‘Crime Scene Do Not Enter’ tape. No doubt I’ll find fingerprint chemicals on the books and they’ll all be ruined.’ The librarian’s face crinkled with worry.

Bear, disappointed to find this new friend refused to play, whined and stared hopefully at the exit. Libby ignored him, keeping a tight hold on the lead. ‘You found the body, I think, Dr Phillips?’

He nodded. ‘Lying on the floor, he was. Face all purple, tongue hanging out. Oh, my, that tongue. What a sight…’

Libby shook her head to rid it of the image. ‘Could it be an accident?’

The librarian pursed his lips. ‘Planning to investigate, are you? Good idea. The police spend too much time giving out speeding tickets these days. It could be months before they find the murderer. You get on to it; speed things up, Mrs Forest, so we can get back to normal.’

He balanced books on the stair rail, scratching his head with one hand. ‘Now, what did you ask? Oh, yes, was it an accident? Hmm. Funny sort of accident, strangled by a chain round the neck.’ He chortled. ‘Someone did him in, and that’s a fact.’

‘What about suicide?’

‘You mean, could he have made a noose from the chain and hung himself?’ The librarian’s face wrinkled in thought. ‘No, that wouldn’t work. The ceiling’s too high. He wouldn’t be able to get up there, even if he climbed on the benches…’

‘Was the chain attached to anything?’

‘No. Just round his neck.’ The man seemed to warm to his topic. ‘I’ll tell you a funny thing.’

‘Yes?’

‘The knitted scarf was wrapped round on top of the chain. Strange. D’you see? On top of the chain, not underneath.’ He pursed his lips. ‘Couldn’t kill himself first, then wrap a scarf round his neck, could he?’

His expression brightened. ‘At least there wasn’t any blood. Don’t want blood on that old oak floor; seventeenth century, you know. You’d never get the stain out…’

 

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