The Bennett Case (A Markham Sisters Cozy Mystery Book 2)

The Bennett Case

 
 

A Markham Sisters
Cozy

Mystery Novella

 
 
 

Diana
Xarissa

 

Text Copyright
©
2015 Diana
Xarissa

 

All Rights Reserved

 

For everyone who
loves to read, everywhere.

 

Acknowledgements

 

I am always so
grateful to the many people who devote their time and energy to help make my
books the best they can be.
 

Thank you to my
editor, Denise, who patiently corrects my grammar and punctuation mistakes,
time and time again.

Thank you to my beta readers,
Janice and Charlene, who offer insightful feedback on my early drafts.

And mostly, thank you
to my readers.
 
You are why I do
this!
 
I’d love to hear from
you.
 
My contact details are in the
back of the book.

Author’s Note

Welcome to the
second novella in the Markham Sisters Cozy Mystery series.
 
You don’t have to read the books in the
series in order, but the characters will develop as the series goes along, so I
recommend that you do.
 
Like the
Bessie series, the novellas will be alphabetical.

The Markham
sisters first appeared in
Aunt Bessie
Decides,
book four in my Isle of Man Cozy Mysteries series.
 
Since Janet has stayed in touch with
Bessie now that the sisters have returned to Derbyshire, each book opens and
closes with Janet’s letters to Bessie.
 
You don’t need to read the Bessie books to enjoy this series, however.
 
The letters to Bessie provide an
introduction and conclusion to each “case” but really have nothing to do with
the Bessie books.

As with the
Isle of Man Cozy series, I’ve used English spellings and terms and have
provided a glossary and notes in the back of the book for readers outside of
the United Kingdom.
 
The longer I
live in the US, the greater the chances are that Americanisms may slip into the
text, and I do
apologise
for any that have snuck past
me.
 

This is a work
of fiction and all of the characters are a creation of the author’s
imagination.
 
Any resemblance that
they may share with any real person, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.
 
The village in
Derbyshire where the sisters live (
Doveby
Dale) is
also fictional.
 
Some of the shops
and restaurants may bear a coincidental resemblance to some real-life
counterpart, but that is wholly unintentional.

 

2
September
1998

Dearest Bessie,

It sounds as if you’ve been having quite a
difficult time of things lately and I urge you once again to come and stay with
us for a while.
 
We are still busy
working towards getting the bed and breakfast up and running, but we could
certainly accommodate you at any time.
 
Just let me know when to expect you.

After the excitement we had when we first
arrived, Joan and I have been enjoying the quiet pace of life in a small
village.
 
We’ve been redecorating
and fixing up the two guest rooms in the house, ready for paying guests at some
point in the future.

Things were moving along quite nicely last
month until we had a very unexpected visitor.
 
Little did we know that his arrival was
just the first in what would begin to feel like a rush in newcomers to the
neighbourhood
.

 

Chapter
One

“I think the
guest rooms are as ready as they’ll ever be,” Janet said over breakfast on a
sunny morning in the middle of August.

“I’d like to
hang some paintings on the walls,” Joan replied.

“It would be
nice to use local artists.
 
I wonder
if there’s a local gallery nearby.”

Joan
shrugged.
 
“I suppose I could ask
Michael over lunch,” she said casually.

Janet grinned.
 
“Why don’t you do that?” she replied.

Janet resisted
the temptation to tease Joan about her lunch date.
 
Her older sister had only just begun
dating for the first time a few weeks earlier.
 
As the two women were in their sixties,
Janet tried hard to resist doing too much of the sort of teasing she might have
done when they’d been in their teens.
 

After the
breakfast dishes had been washed and put away, the two women climbed the
stairs.
 
They’d only owned
Doveby
House for a little more than a month.
 
Joan was the more eager of the two to
begin running the small manor house as a bed and breakfast.
 
The former owner had apparently been
quite successful at doing so, and Joan was keen to emulate her success.

“I think we
need a nice painting on this wall,” Joan told Janet, gesturing towards the only
wall in the smaller guest room that didn’t have a window or a large furniture
piece along it.

“You could be
right,” Janet said, looking around the room.
 
“I’m surprised Margaret Appleton didn’t
have any art in the guest rooms.”

“Maybe she did
and the trust that inherited the property removed the pictures before they sold
us the house,” Joan suggested.

The sisters
moved across the hall to the larger guest room.
 

“This room
needs a large painting on that wall and a smaller one over here,” Joan
announced, showing her sister where she wanted them.

“See what
Michael says,” Janet replied.
 
“If
there’s a local gallery that showcases local artists, that should be our first
stop.”

“Perhaps we
could find a local artist who would like to loan us his or her work in the
hopes that someone might buy something,” Joan said thoughtfully.
 

“That’s a
great idea,” Janet said.
 
“And it
would save us some money as well.”

The sisters
had been able to purchase
Doveby
House thanks to a
small inheritance and the sale of the cottage they used to own.
 
While they were both generally frugal
with money, they’d spent a great deal of it in getting the house fixed up and ready
for guests.
 
A few paying customers,
at least now and then, were starting to sound better and better to both
sisters.

“Otherwise,
the rooms look good,”
Janet
said as they walked back
down the stairs.
 
“As does the rest
of the house.”

They’d had
every room painted and had much of the furniture, which had been included in
the sale of the home, reupholstered or refinished.
 

“We should do
something with the library,” Joan said, opening the door to the small room that
was tucked into a corner at the back of the property.

Janet stepped
into the library and sighed deeply.
 
She’d refused to consider doing anything in this room.
 
The shelves were crammed full of books that
had apparently been positioned in a completely haphazard fashion.
 
Organising
the
library was on Janet’s mental list of jobs and she wanted to do it all herself.

“I’ll get
around to it,” she told her sister now.
 
“I’m saving it for a rainy day.”

“More like a
rainy month,” Joan replied.
 
“It’s
going to take some considerable time for you to take all of the books down and
clean properly.
 
That needs to be
done before you even think about
reorganising
the
shelves.”

Janet
frowned.
 
Joan was right, but she wouldn’t
be rushed.
 
The library was her
favourite
place in the whole world, even as it was.
  
She would make it perfect,
eventually, but there was no rush.
 
Their guests wouldn’t be coming to look at books anyway; they’d be
coming to explore Derbyshire.
 

“Don’t you
need to ring the doctor about your knee?” Janet asked her sister, hoping to
change the subject.

“Oh, yes, I
suppose I do,” Joan replied with a sigh.
 
Both sisters were in excellent health, but Joan had tripped on a loose
bit of carpet a few days earlier and twisted her knee.
 
The pain didn’t seem to be getting better,
so she’d finally agreed she ought to let a doctor have a look at it.

With Joan out
of the room, Janet ran her fingers lovingly along one of the shelves.
 
She counted slowly to ten and then
pulled out the book closest to her hand.
 


Jack Spry, Extraordinary Spy,”
she read
off the cover.
 
She flipped it open
and checked the copyright date.
  
The book had been published in 1957.
 
She read a few paragraphs of the first
chapter and then shook her head.
 
Clearly the author had read some of Ian Fleming’s books and decided to
try to write something similar.
 

The book
opened with Jack romancing a beautiful blonde woman.
 
As Janet read on, Jack drank and flirted,
while at the same time he was eavesdropping on a conversation across the room,
thanks to a sophisticated listening device he conveniently had with him.
 
Janet shut the book as Jack led the
blonde up to his room, stopping on the way to inform the bartender, who was
also apparently a spy, all about the top secret plans that the men on the other
side of the room had just made.

She slid the
book back into its place and sighed.
 
Not every book in the room was going to be wonderful, she knew that, but
it seemed that most of her random selections lately had been
disappointing.
 
She’d never
realised
how many truly awful books had been published.

“Janet?
 
Are you still in the library?”

Janet gave up
on finding another book and headed out to find her sister.
 

“I’m coming,”
she called back, heading towards the kitchen.
 
She ran into her sister in the corridor.

“Ah, there you
are,” Joan said.
 
“The doctor has an
opening in his schedule now, so I’m going to pop over and get this knee looked
at.
 
I’m sure I’ll be there for
ages, so I’ve told Michael that I’ll meet him at the restaurant rather than
having him collect me here.
 
I’ll
see you sometime this afternoon, after my lunch with Michael.”

“Good luck
with the doctor, and have fun at lunch,” Janet told her.
  
“Ring me if you need anything.”

“You don’t
mind me taking the car, do you?”

“I wasn’t
planning on going anywhere,” Janet assured her.
 
“There’s plenty in the kitchen for my
lunch.
 
I think I might start
working on the library while you’re out.”

As the sisters
had always worked at the same primary school together, they’d only ever owned
one car that they shared.
 
It hadn’t
been a problem before they’d both retired, but now Janet was starting to think
that she’d quite like a little car of her own.
 
Today she really didn’t mind her sister
taking the car, though.
 
She really
did want to spend some time in the library, even if all she accomplished was
finding a good book to read.

“Good.
 
I’ll see you later this afternoon, then,”
Joan said.
 
“Perhaps, instead of the
library, you’d like to spend some time sorting through all the paperwork from
the bed and breakfast,” she called back over her shoulder as she headed towards
her room.

“Perhaps not,”
Janet muttered as Joan disappeared into the large owner’s suite.
 
Along with furniture and books, the
house had also contained several boxes of paperwork when they’d purchased
it.
 
Both sisters knew that they
should take the time to sort through it all.
 
No doubt it would provide useful
information for them as they prepared to reopen to paying guests.
 
Already they’d had a handful of letters
and phone calls from former guests, requesting bookings.
 
Both sisters were reluctant to accept
any until they’d been through the papers, though.
 

“There might
be a list of former guests who were difficult or unpleasant,” Janet had pointed
out to her sister the last time the subject had come up.
 
“We don’t want to open our home to just
anyone.”

Joan had
agreed, but now she’d taken to reminding Janet of the need to sort the papers
nearly every day.
 
When Janet
suggested that Joan could start the task, Joan always found something more
pressing that needed doing, generally in the kitchen.
 

As Joan was an
excellent cook and baker, she’d always done all of the food preparation for
them both.
 
Now that she was dating,
however, Janet found herself on her own for meals more often than usual.
 
She hadn’t mentioned it to Joan yet, but
Janet was finding that she quite liked doing a bit of cooking now and
then.
 
Of course, some of that was
probably due to her tendency to cook only her very
favourite
things, often conveniently forgetting to add the vegetables that her big sister
always insisted on including in every meal.

Today Joan had
left a bowl of soup in the refrigerator for Janet, so Janet simply had to
reheat it when she got hungry.
 

Janet sat down
in the comfortable sitting room and picked up the book she’d left on the coffee
table.
 
She read a few paragraphs,
but it really wasn’t holding her interest.
 
Putting her finger in the book to hold her place, she sat back and stared
out the nearest window at a beautiful summer day.
 

“Janet, I’m
going now,” Joan said from the doorway.
 
“I’ve left a box of papers on the kitchen table with the blank file
folders.
 
I’m sure the sorting won’t
take that long once you get started.”

She was gone
before Janet could reply.
 
Janet
stuck her tongue out at her anyway.
 
Then she put a bookmark in her book and put it back on the table,
reluctantly heading to the kitchen.
 
Joan had put the box at the place where Janet habitually sat, spreading
file folders across the rest of the table.
 
Janet would have to move things around in order to eat her lunch.
 

And while I’m
at it, I may as well do a bit of sorting, Janet thought, knowing that was
exactly what Joan had envisioned.

An hour later,
Janet had a half-empty box and a pile of neatly
labelled
file folders.
 
Most of what she’d
found had been old utility bills, receipts for purchases of everything from
groceries to furniture, and bank and credit card statements.
 
A few notes from former guests had proven
more interesting, although ultimately fairly useless.
 
Janet had put them all in a separate
folder and now she read through it a second time.

Maggie,
Thanks for a lovely time, as ever.
 
Yours, Dave.

Maggie,
Doveby
House is gorgeous, thanks for sharing it with us.
 
See you next year, Bob and Sue.

Maggie, We had a wonderful time at
Doveby
House.
 
You’ll be seeing us again.
 
Matt and Dawn.

There were a
handful more, but they were all similarly short and had all been signed with
only Christian names.
 
Janet set the
file folders to one side and put the box on the counter.
 
She knew that there were several more
boxes like it in the small storage closet in the sitting room, but now it was
time for more pressing concerns, like lunch.

She heated her
soup and ate it with a slice of crusty bread smothered in butter.
 
Joan
tutted
when she put too much butter on her bread, but Joan wasn’t home to notice.
 
Janet glanced down at her curvy hips and
thought for a moment that she was lucky her sister didn’t go out more often.
 
She’d probably gain a great deal of
weight if Joan
wasn’t
around to nag her to eat
healthily.

 
After eating, she washed up her lunch
dishes, drying them and putting them away.
 
Sorting more paperwork held no appeal for her, but she wasn’t really in
the mood for poking around in the library either.
 
The sun was shining brightly and Janet
thought it would be the perfect afternoon to sit in their garden and enjoy the
weather.
 
She was heading towards
the conservatory, to go out through the French doors there, when she heard
someone knocking.

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