Excerpt from “The Tattered Red Cloak”

"Odd Goings-on..." Cover

 

From Odd Goings-on at Ferndell Farm and Other Stories, a collection of short non-murder mysteries set in the 1920s, featuring detective Frederick Babington:

 

The Tattered Red Cloak

It was fully dark by the time they reached the Abbotshill village green. The air had grown crisp with nightfall, but the sky was full of brilliant stars. Only a crusting of old snow lay on the rooftops and on the grass. The green had been swept clear. A bonfire blazed high at the end nearest the Millwheel Inn and the children were dancing in a ring around it as if it were Guy Fawkes’ Night.

Everyone within five miles of Abbotshill had come out for the festivities tonight. All the village shopkeepers and neighboring farm-families were in attendance. Makeshift booths covered in colorful bunting had been set up to sell toasted buns, roast chestnuts, hot cider, mince pies, and other light but warming refreshments. The Rose and Crown Tavern, which sat on the opposite side of the mill pond, was open to offer the usual drink for those who wanted something more intoxicating. A band of musicians from Ipswich played in front of the tavern and a few couples had already assembled for the first dance.

Although his aunt had dismissed the dance as beneath the gentry, Freddie saw that many of his own relatives weren’t above taking part in this rustic amusement. In addition to Amyas and Virginia Barlow, Freddie recognized Virginia’s stolid older brothers Julius and Gervais Babington dancing with their respective wives. His elderly relatives Prunella and Hugh Proudhome stood to one side, not joining the dance in this chilly weather but enjoying the sight of the young people enjoying themselves. Ruby and Wilbur Chodeley kept a careful eye on their little daughters near the bonfire; their son Will and the Proudhomes’ grandson Alec had begun to toss squibs into the blaze to startle their elders and delight the younger children.

*Pop!*

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Excerpt from “Pearls”

"Odd Goings-on..." Cover

 

From Odd Goings-on at Ferndell Farm and Other Stories, a collection of short non-murder mysteries set in the 1920s, featuring detective Frederick Babington:

 

Priscilla’s Precious Pearls in a Pie

He had dreamed of lost and stolen jewels since the very beginning of his work as a consulting detective. Here they were at last—an iridescent pile of matched pearls, each slightly smaller than a pea, bundled into a lady’s practical-sized handkerchief. Each had a tiny hole drilled through its center, the interior of which appeared to be tinted slightly red.

“I had them cleaned,” Mrs. Hillingdon explained. “I took them to the same man who does my dentures. He’s a marvel at removing tea and cherry-juice stains. I’m afraid I’ve always been too partial to cherry pie for my own good. I insist on my cook baking one for my birthday every year instead of cake. I never cared for cake. Imagine our surprise when we found what we thought were so many pits—Mrs. Parmiggen never leaves pits! But these were pearls, a necklace worth of pearls. Now, how on earth did they come to be in my birthday pie, and who could they possibly belong to? Answer those questions for me, Mr. Babington, and I’ll believe you’re the greatest detective since Sherlock Holmes.”

Freddie smiled at the hyperbole. Mrs. Hillingdon was a widow of a certain age, a good-humored woman of moderate means but no pretensions, somewhat stout, somewhat grey. She had come from Woking to present him with a handkerchief full of loose pearls and a most intriguing puzzle.

“I hope I’ll be able to live up to your expectations,” he answered. “None of your friends or relatives owns a string of pearls?”

“No, nothing so fine as these. You can see for yourself that they certainly aren’t Woolworth’s. Someone must surely be missing them, and yet I’ve seen nothing about a theft in the newspapers. Much as I would love to keep them as lost property, I can’t in good conscience. I must do what I can to locate the owner.”

“And you believe that must have gone into the pie as a necklace?”

“Yes, although the string was broken. We found bits of it baked onto the crust. I had those thrown out once we were certain we’d recovered all the pearls from the pie, but I did keep the clasp. I hoped it might help to identify who these belong to. There are initials and a date on it.”

“Yes.” Freddie plucked out the small gold oval that also lay within the folds of the handkerchief. It too had been cleaned and the two hooked pieces joined together.

He walked to the window of his study and held the clasp up to the light to see the engraving better—and received a surprise more astonishing than the mystery that Mrs. Hillingdon and her birthday guests had received.

“As a matter of fact,” he announced, “I can tell you exactly who these pearls belong to.”

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Who Killed Toby Glovins? Third Excerpt

It was dusk by the time Freddie returned to Foxgrove Park. At this same hour yesterday, they’d found Toby dead. Instead of entering the house, he walked a little way down the drive toward the Vixen and let himself in through a latched iron gate in the garden wall. He wasn’t ready to face anybody yet.

Toby Glovins cover detailThe garden was quiet, seemingly abandoned, but as he wandered the shrubbery, he heard the sound of someone sobbing. Freddie traced the sound to the pavilion. The decorative lanterns that had been hung up around the lawn remained unlit, but there was enough light cast from the Vixen’s windows for him to see Amelia weeping in the bower they’d made for her.

“Mellie?”

She lifted her face from her handkerchief. “Freddie?”

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine… as well as can be expected. I had to get away. Everyone means well, but I can’t bear to hear one more person tell me how lucky I am to be free of Evvy. I don’t feel lucky! I’m sorry about the flowers,” she added nonsensically. “You worked so hard on this silly bower and now it’ll have to come down before they wilt and turn brown.”

Freddie ventured a few steps closer. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

“No,” Mellie answered after a moment. “Since you’re here, you might as well stay.” She patted the wooden bench as an invitation to join her. “Are you still investigating?”

“Yes,” he said as he sat down.

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Who Killed Toby Glovins? Second Excerpt

Toby Glovins cover detail“Freddie.”

When Freddie left the Vixen, he headed toward Foxgrove along a path that skirted the outer garden wall. Inspector Deffords stood waiting for him. “I thought you’d gone.”

“I had some business with my men before they packed up, but I wanted to talk to you before I went into Foxborough.” He offered a cigarette and Freddie was grateful to take it; he hadn’t had one since before breakfast.

“I can’t say I’m surprised to find you in the middle of this,” Deffords told him. “Not after that business with Bertram Marsh, then the Putey girl who was mixed up with your cousin Wilfrid. Now a body turns up in your uncle’s back garden.”

“Do you mind that Uncle Percy’s engaged me?” asked Freddie.

“I won’t object. I can’t if Sir Percival insists and my superiors allow it–and they do. Even the higher-ups know to stay on the good side of the local nobs, and not just where murder’s concerned. As long as everybody important in Norfolk is an uncle of yours, I might as well make use of it. I know how your class closes ranks. Sir Percival’s family won’t tell me a thing, but they’ll tell you. You can ask them questions. Play detective all you like, but I want you to be careful. It’s safer to stay out of murders. I’ve said so before.”

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Excerpt from “Who Killed Toby Glovins?”

Toby Glovins cover detailThe bride’s and groom’s friends prepare decorations in the garden the evening before the wedding…

The last chain of flowers was finished as the sun sank out of sight behind the garden wall. Bicky and, at his brother’s insistence, Dotty joined the girls and Felix to help hang the garlands up around the bower frame. Evelyn, who had been working swiftly to finish before sunset, put down the knife he’d been using to trim the flower-stems, washed the green stains from his hands in the water from one of the tubs, and hastily left. Phillip went over to Kell and the two began to talk quietly.

Freddie lay back on the grass and stared at the sky overhead as twilight settled in. The color had waned from bright, cloudless blue to a dusky lavender and was beginning to deepen. It was a beautiful evening, still, clear, and quiet. He could hear Kell and Phillip whispering together, and the smell of Kell’s cigarette in the cooling air made him wish he had one of his own.

There was some animated discussion at the bower, then Felix, Piggy, and Perdita came to stand over him.

“The girls,” announced Felix with a grin, “have a proposal.”

“A dance!” cried Perdita. “There’ll be lots of dancing tomorrow. We need to practice.”

“We need boys. We can’t all dance with Felix,” Alma said with her customary giggle, but she managed to claim Felix for her partner just the same.

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Another Excerpt from “Cousin Wilfrid”

The investigation begins:

After lunch, Kell and Phillip accompanied Billy to the Rose and Crown. They’d discussed their plans with Freddie and agreed that this would be the most effective way to get information. The village inhabitants enjoyed few things more than gathering at the local pub to discuss their neighbors’ comings and goings. Surely, all of Abbotshill was talking about Wilfrid. Why not take advantage of it?

At the Rose and Crown, the trio made their way to the bar together. While Kell and Phillip obtained their first pints of the local brew, Amyas Barlow waved eagerly to draw their attention and summon them to his table.

Seated with Amyas was Aloysius Whittaker, called Lad by his friends. He was a broad-shouldered, flaxen-haired, thick-headed but good-hearted youth of 25, son of the mayor of the nearby town of Stowmarket. Since Lad and Amyas were as good a point as any to begin their work, Kell and Phillip picked up their glasses of beer and joined them.
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Excerpt from “Cousin Wilfrid”

From The Abrupt Disappearance of Cousin Wilfrid:

On Monday morning while he breakfasted at a little table in the bow window of his room, there was knock at the door. Freddie looked up from his plate of bacon and eggs, wondering who it could be. Billy, who was packing Freddie’s suitcase, left off this task to answer it.

The local constable, Robert Cochrane, stood in the hallway. He looked relieved to see Billy, for the two had been friends from childhood.

“G’morning, Bill. I’d like to speak to your Mr. Freddie, please, if you don’t mind.”

“What’s this about, Rob?” Billy asked.

“It’s that cousin of his, Mr. Babington-Loewes. He’s gone missing.”

“Missing?” said Billy; from immediately behind him came an echo: “Wilfrid’s missing?” He turned to find that Freddie had left his seat at the table to join them at the door.

“That’s right, Mr. Babington,” Rob answered. “He left Abbotshill last Friday night and no one’s seen him since.” Noting that Freddie was still in his dressing-gown, he added apologetically, “I don’t wish to trouble you. I know you’ve been poorly and I wouldn’t’ve come if it wasn’t important.”
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Another excerpt from “The Family Jewels”

The Taggarts weren’t an old county family like the Babingtons, but had gained prominence a generation ago following the success of the Taggart boiled sweets factory in Colchester. Mr. Taggart was also the local MP. Freddie had met him once or twice at his aunt’s house on social occasions and, whenever he got off the train at Abbotshill Halt, couldn’t help seeing the conspicuously large and jarringly modern house where Mr. Taggart lived when Parliamentary duties didn’t keep him in London.

While Freddie wasn’t among Mr. Taggart’s constituents, many of his relatives were. When he gave his name to the parlormaid, he and his companions were shown into the drawing room. Mr. Taggart, a chubby man of about fifty dressed like a country squire, was in conference with a robust lady of middle age whom Freddie had also seen at his aunt’s and assumed to be his wife–but Mr. Taggart introduced her as his sister, Mrs. Broadbelt.

Once Freddie had explained what brought him, Mr. Taggart nodded solemnly. “Nettie and I were just discussing it. It sounds most peculiar.”

“I’ve heard of your investigations from your aunt, Mr. Babington,” said Mrs. Broadbelt, “although I had no idea that you’d taken it up as a profession.”

“I’ve only done it to help members of my family before this,” Freddie acknowledged. “I suppose this will be my first professional case. I’d like to find out more about that cottage,” he began as he took a seat. Billy and Rob remained shyly near the door; Rob twisted his cap in his hands and Billy eyed the cut-glass bowl on the sideboard filled with Taggart Toffee Treats and the red-and-white bull’s-eye candies known as Taggart Targets. “The Fairchilds tell me that it’s your property, Mr. Taggart. It used to belong to your mother?”

“Yes, that’s right,” said Mr. Taggart. “The cottage was Mother’s. She and our father lived there when they first married and when we were small children, before he came into prosperity. Father built this house for her when he had the money, but Mother preferred her old home. After he died, she returned there to live until she passed away last summer. After Mother’s death, the cottage sat empty for months until young Florrie married. I offered it to her and her husband as a honeymoon home.”

“Did anything odd like this happen when your mother lived there?”

“No…” Mr. Taggart glanced significantly at his sister.

“It’s the jewelry,” she concluded. “I’ve always said it was still in that cottage!”

“Jewelry?” said Rob, suddenly alert. “What jewelry is this, Ma’am?”

“Mother’s.” Mrs. Broadbelt explained in more detail, primarily to Freddie: “She had some lovely pieces–pearls, rings, a set of antique gold combs, and a famous emerald necklace worth more than all the rest together. You can see it, there.” She pointed to a portrait on the wall above the fireplace, depicting an elderly lady wearing a dress in the style of 1900 and a magnificent collar of green stones. Rob examined it more closely. “It’d been in Mother’s family for generations before their fortunes took a bad turn. All her own mother had left were these jewels and she held on to them to the end. Mother was just as loath to part with them.”

“I believe she sold a few small pieces to help father begin his business,” Mr. Taggart interjected.

“Yes, but nothing she truly valued. That necklace was her prized possession. It had always gone from mother to daughter and Mother was determined to carry on the tradition. As her eldest daughter, I should’ve received it at her death. From eldest daughter to eldest daughter, it always was, but since I have no children, Mother thought it more fair to divide her jewelry between all her daughters and granddaughters.”

“But the jewels was never given to anybody,” said Billy, speaking for the first time. “What happened to them?”

“Well, you know the way of old ladies,” said Mr. Taggart. “In her last days, Mother grew rather scatter-brained and began to worry about her jewelry box being stolen. We think that she must’ve hidden it someplace safe, but she never told us where. Perhaps she forgot. We went through her things after her funeral, searched the cottage, but never found it. That was well over a year ago.”

Excerpt from “The Family Jewels”

A mystery set in the 1920s, continuing the adventures of Frederick Babington.
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It was a beautiful, crisp, and colorful autumn afternoon. Frederick Babington, who was visiting his aunt in the Suffolk village of Abbotshill, decided to take a walk. Though the injuries he’d received during the Great War had taken a long time to heal, he was beginning to feel truly well again. His leg no longer pained him and he’d discarded his cane.

Billy Watkins, Freddie’s manservant who had saved his life during the war and looked after him diligently since, insisted that he take a coat in case the evening grew chilly and not tire himself by going too far. Freddie promised to be back in time for dinner and grabbed his tweed coat down from the rack by the front door on his way out.

He had delightful time wandering the country lanes around Abbotshill, climbing the green hills and kicking up piles of golden and russet leaves that had fallen under the trees. At dusk, he headed back toward his aunt’s house by way of the Rose and Crown pub; a pint of the local beer seemed just the thing to complete his outing.

The taproom was crowded, but the girl at the bar smiled when she saw him. “We’ve been hearing some talk about you tonight, Mr. Freddie,” she told him as she filled a mug from the tap. Freddie didn’t understand this remark, until she lifted her chin to indicate a table in the corner behind him. “Bill’s been here near an hour, telling everybody what a fine detective you are. Our constable was interested in particular.”

Freddie turned to look over his shoulder and located Billy seated with the village constable, Rob Cochrane. The two were deep in conversation and hadn’t noticed his entrance. Curious as to what they were saying, Freddie picked up his mug and made his way toward their table.

As he approached, a familiar voice could be heard through the chatter of the crowd: “I tell you, Mr. Freddie’s awfully clever. He’s solved plenty of mysteries, private-like for his family, you understand, but he likes a puzzle even if it’s nothing to do with murder. If anybody can figure out this one of yours, Rob, Mr. Freddie can.”

Freddie was deeply touched by the recommendation. There was an old saying: No man is a hero to his valet–but Billy evidently thought well enough of him to sing his praises in in public.

“So you think he’ll see me?” asked Rob.

“If I ask him to, he will,” Billy assured his friend. “Whyn’t you come up to Abbot House with me? We’ll put it before Mr. Freddie and see what he thinks.” It was then he realized that Freddie was standing behind him; Billy’s face colored, his mouth opened and shut, and he ducked his head.

Freddie beamed at him affectionately. “Ask me what, Billy?”

“It’s Rob here–he’s got a puzzle as needs working out.” Billy waved to indicate his friend.

“Bill says I ought to come to you, Mr. Babington, ’bout this matter I was called to look into,” Rob explained. “There’s been no crime as such, but it’s an odd thing. Billy was telling me you like to investigate odd things. I thought as you might want to have a look at it yourself.”

“What is it?”

Rob made as if to rise–he thought it disrespectful to be seated before a gentleman–but Freddie gestured for him to stay where he was. Rob remained seated, but sat up a little straighter in his chair as he reported, “There was a cottage broken into this afternoon on the far side of the village–not burgled, Mr. Babington, as I say. Nothing’s been taken. But here’s the curious thing: the furniture’s been shifted about.”

“Shifted about?” echoed Freddie. “You mean, someone came in and rearranged their furniture?”

“Not so much ‘rearranged,’ more like pulled out of place. I’ve been constable in these parts for three years now, and it’s the most peculiar bit of mischief I’ve ever seen! Can you tell me why anybody’d want to do such a thing?”

Another excerpt from “Maiden In Light”

Laurel follows her uncle one night to discover what goes on during the wizard’s secret vigils:
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After sunset on Midsummer eve, as twilight deepened, Laurel hid and waited impatiently in the shadowed thickets of the chapel garden.

From her first days at the castle, she’d watched Lord Redmantyl go out on the nights of Equinox and Solstice, on May Night, Maryemas, Candlemas, and All Hallows, and she wondered each time where he went. The wizard would never tell. If she looked out of her dressing-room window in the late hours, she sometimes saw strange, glowing lights out on Greenwaters Island—the unnatural color of wizard-fire. Something spectacular was happening and she was eager to discover what it was. Her uncle’s promises that she would understand when she was a wizard herself did not satisfy. She sensed a tantalizing, ominous truth behind this mystery. Her training told her that she was being prepared for great vigilance. Each exercise indicated a magical purpose which required enormous power uncontaminated by external influences. She was armed as a knight errant for battle, but against whom? What foe did she defend herself against? Wizard’s Keep was the key.

She couldn’t wait until she became a wizard; she must know now.
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