The Bennett Case (A Markham Sisters Cozy Mystery Book 2) (5 page)

BOOK: The Bennett Case (A Markham Sisters Cozy Mystery Book 2)
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The policeman
frowned.
 
“I don’t know enough about
the missing man to be certain.
 
Tell
me about your guest, please.”

Janet wasn’t
happy to sit there and listen as Joan told Robert everything they knew about
Edward Bennett.
 
It wasn’t as if she
even liked the man, she reminded herself,
it
just
seemed unfair to be suggesting to the police that he might be a criminal.
 
As Joan talked, Janet had a sudden
thought.
 
Once Joan was finished,
Janet jumped in.

“Michael,
across the road, had a guest turn up unexpectedly today,” she told Robert.
 
While Joan frowned at her, Janet told
the policeman the little that she knew about Leonard Simmons.

“If any other
men around that age suddenly turn up, please let me know,” Robert told them as
he rose to his feet.
 
“I’m going to
stop over at Mr. Donaldson’s house and see if I can have a quick word with Mr.
Simmons.”

“They were
going into Derby,” Janet told him.
 
“I doubt anyone is home.”

“Well, thank
you for your help,” he said.
 
“I’ll
keep you informed if we find the man.”

Joan walked Robert
to the door, letting him out and then carefully locking the door behind him.

“I can’t
believe you told the police that Michael might be
harbouring
a fugitive,” Joan said angrily when she returned to the sitting room.

“You told him
we might be
harbouring
a fugitive,” Janet shot
back.
 
“I’m sure Edward isn’t
anything of the kind.”

“Considering
you spent most of yesterday insisting you didn’t like the man, you suddenly
seem very
cosy
with Mr. Bennett,” Joan said.

“He’s growing
on me,” Janet admitted.
 
“Anyway,
he’s an old friend of Maggie Appleton’s.
 
He can’t be a criminal.”

“We don’t know
what sort of friends Mrs. Appleton had,” Joan countered.

Janet thought
about the lascivious letters that were still in the bottom desk drawer in the
library.
 
The sisters knew that Mrs.
Appleton had had several husbands over the years.
 
Was it possible that she was also
involved with criminals?

“I’d like to
see a picture of her,” Janet said, as the thought crossed her mind again.

“Of Maggie
Appleton?” Joan asked.

“Yeah, I
wonder what she looked like?”

“What
difference does it make?”

“I’m just
curious,” Janet replied.

“And you want
to know what Edward saw in her,” Joan said, as if the idea just hit her.

“Not at all,”
Janet replied, looking out the window towards the garden.

“Perhaps
Stuart has some old photos,” Joan suggested, presumably seeing the same thing
Janet had through the sitting room window.
 

Stuart was on
his way into their garden again.
 

“I think I’ll
go and ask him,” she told Joan, heading towards the conservatory.

 

Chapter
Five

“How are you?”
Janet greeted their
neighbour
when she found him in
the very back corner of the large garden.
 

Stuart smiled
at her.
 
“I’m well,” he
replied.
 
“I saw some weeds coming
through back here and I figured I’d better tackle them before they got out of
hand.”

Janet looked
at the rolling expanse of grass.
 
“It looks just about perfect to me,” she told the man.

He dropped to
his knees and pointed to something.
 
“See?
 
This shouldn’t be
here.
 
If it’s left to grow on its
own, it will soon take over.”

Janet leaned
down and studied the area he was pointing to.
 
All she could see was grass.
 
“I see,” she said after a moment.
 
“Well, it’s a good thing you’re here to
keep track of such things, then.”

“Did you need
something else doing?” Stuart asked, sitting back on his heels.

“I just had a
quick question,” Janet replied.
 
“We
were talking about Maggie Appleton and I
realised
that I’ve no idea what she looked like.
 
Do you have any photos of her?”

“Maggie didn’t
like having her picture taken,” Stuart said.
 
“We don’t take a lot of photos
ourselves, Mary and I, but we had the camera out one day when the grandchildren
were due for a visit and I tried to get Maggie to pose with Mary.
 
She very politely refused.”

“So in all the
years she lived here, you never got a single photo of her?” Janet asked,
disappointed.

“As I said, we
don’t take a lot of photos, and once I knew Maggie didn’t like having her
picture taken, I never tried again.
 
You should ask your guest.
 
If anyone has pictures of Maggie, it would be him.”

“Edward?
 
Why?”

“He and Maggie
were
a couple, weren’t they?
 
He used to visit pretty regularly,
that’s for sure.
 
They used to go
sightseeing together and all sorts.
 
You should ask him.”

Janet nodded
slowly, her mind racing.
 
Edward was
the last person she wanted to ask about Maggie Appleton.

“Was there
anything else?” Stuart asked, glancing at his watch.
 
“I really need to get some weed killer
mixed up and applied, and I promised Mary I’d only be a few minutes.”

“No, sorry, that
was all,”
Janet
told him.
 
“Sorry to interrupt your work.”

She headed
back inside feeling dissatisfied.
 
Perhaps she needed to go through the rest of Maggie’s old
paperwork.
 
She hadn’t noticed any
photos in the boxes, but there could be some somewhere.
 
Joan was eager to get away to do some
grocery shopping at the large store outside
Doveby
Dale, which left Janet alone in the house.

Unable to
think of anything better to do, and not wanting to think about her dinner
plans, Janet settled into a comfortable chair in the sitting room with one of Maggie’s
boxes of papers and a pile of file folders.
 
She sorted out piles of old bills,
receipts and the odd note from a happy (or not so happy) former guest at
Doveby
House.
 

By six o’clock
she was feeling fed up and bored, but she’d managed to empty the box.
 
She was just tidying everything neatly
away when Edward let himself in the front door.

“That seems like
a lot of paperwork,” Edward said cheerfully.

“We found
several boxes of papers in various places when we bought the house,” Janet
explained.
 
“We’re taking our time,
sorting through them all.”

“Maggie’s
papers?” the man asked.

Janet frowned,
wishing she’d done the sorting in her room instead.
 
“Yes,” she replied.
 
“But they’re nothing exciting.”
 
She suddenly recalled the letters that
were locked up in the library.
 
Those were considerably more exciting, but she was even more reluctant
to go through them than she was to sort out the bills and things.

“If you’d like
a hand, I’d be happy to sort through a box or two for you,” Edward said.

His tone was
casual, but Janet couldn’t help but feel like he was really interested in
getting his hands on the boxes.
 

“That’s very
kind of you,” she replied, getting up from her seat and dropping the file
folders into the now empty box.
 
“But Joan and I are getting through them.
 
We’re hoping they might help us with
getting the business going again, so we’re being very careful as we sort.”

“Very
sensible, I’m sure.
 
Have you found
anything interesting so far?”

Janet shook her
head.
 
“Not unless you consider old
utility bills interesting,” she replied.
 
“Although Joan certainly does.
 
She’s trying to work out what our bills will be like, especially in the
winter months when we’ll have this big house to heat.”

“I suppose I
can see Joan’s point, but no, I don’t find old utility bills the least bit
interesting.
 
And that’s all you’ve
found?”

“That’s all,
aside from a few notes from former guests,” she told him, watching him
closely.
 
His face didn’t give
anything away, but Janet still thought he seemed disappointed.

“Well, I’d
better go and get ready for dinner,” he said after a moment.
 
“I have a hot date.”

“Lucky you,”
Janet retorted.

Edward winked
at her.
 
“You’ll be ready by half
six, won’t you?” he checked.

“Of
course.”
 
Janet glanced at the clock
and frowned.
 
It was later than
she’d
realised
.

“Can I carry
that box somewhere for you?” Edward asked now, as Janet lifted the box filled
with the sorted paperwork.

“You go and
get ready,” she replied.
 
“It’s
fine.”
 
She waited until she heard
his footsteps on the stairs before she headed to Joan’s suite.
 
With a guest in the house, they had
moved the boxes into Joan’s small sitting room, but Janet didn’t want Edward to
know that.
 
She put the box back
with the others and then rushed upstairs to get ready for dinner, pausing just
long enough to make absolutely certain that the door to Joan’s suite was locked
behind her.

“I’m sure
you’ll have a lovely time,” she told her reflection.
 
The face in the mirror didn’t look
convinced.
 
Janet added a bit of
makeup and then shrugged.
 
She
didn’t even like the man; there was no point in fussing with her
appearance.
 
Still, it was a date,
the first she’d had in many years.
 
She added a quick coat of lipstick and decided that was enough.

“Janet’s
always late for dates,” Joan’s voice carried down the corridor as Janet
approached the sitting room.
 
“When
we were younger and she was going out every night, I swear I spent more time
entertaining her dates than she did.”

Janet heard
Edward chuckle.
 
“I hope she isn’t
too late,” he replied.
 
“I’ve made a
booking at my
favourite
local restaurant.”

“I’m not
late,”
Janet
said from the doorway, ignoring the clock
on the wall that suggested she was, in fact, about five minutes behind
schedule.

“And you look
lovely,” Edward said, getting to his feet.
 
“Shall we?”

Janet took the
arm he offered and then made a face at her sister behind his back.
 
Joan shook her head and Janet knew she
was wondering when her younger sister might actually grow up.
 
As far as Janet was concerned, she was
as grown up as she needed to be.

Edward
escorted her to his car, a nearly new saloon car that Janet
recognised
as a luxury model.
 
She settled in
her seat and then Edward shut her door.
 

“This is very
nice,” Janet said once Edward was behind the driver’s seat.

“I like cars,”
he replied.
 
He glanced over at her
and then grinned.
 
“I won’t bore you
with any details, but I’ve always tried to buy the best car I could afford.
 
When I was younger, I drove fast sporty
cars, but now I find I prefer comfort and performance instead.”

“I just like
to get from place to place,” Janet replied.
 
“We’ve been buying pretty much the same
car every four or five years since we bought our first car.”

Edward
laughed.
 
“That’s one way to do it.”

“It works for
us,” Janet told him.

The drive to
the restaurant wasn’t a long one, but by the time they arrived, Janet was
rethinking their commitment to the manufacturer of their current car.
 
Edward’s car purred along quietly,
absorbing the bumps in the road and leaving her feeling almost as if she’d
floated all the way there.

“What does a
car like this cost?” she asked as Edward helped her from the incredibly
comfortable leather seat.

The number
Edward gave her made her laugh and then shake her head.
 
So much for that
little fantasy.
 
She and Joan
would never be able to afford a car like his.

The restaurant
was a small French one that Janet had passed more than once but had never been
inside.
 
It was dimly lit and looked
expensive, where Janet and Joan tended to look for bright and cheerfully economical
on the odd occasion when they ate away from home.

The host
greeted them warmly.
 
“Ah, Mr. Bennett,
it’s such a pleasure to see you again.
 
And with such a lovely companion this evening.”

He showed them
to a quiet table in the back corner of the restaurant and left them with the
gorgeously handwritten menus.

Janet scanned
the menu quickly.
 
The entire menu
was written in French.
 
Besides
that, there were no prices on it, and that worried her.
 
She felt completely overwhelmed by the
entire place and the man sitting opposite her.
 
She found she was suddenly wishing that
Joan would call and interrupt things before they went any further.

“Do you need
any help with translating the selections?” Edward asked.

Janet felt a flash
of temper and reminded herself that she didn’t like the man.
 
She took a deep breath and smiled
sweetly at him.
 
“I think I’m okay,”
she said softly.

When the
waiter arrived he and Edward had a lengthy conversation about wine without
including Janet.
 
She bit her
tongue, as she didn’t particularly care what wine they had with dinner.
 
She wasn’t planning on drinking
much.
 

The man
returned with the bottle Edward had selected and went through the ritual of
having Edward taste his choice.
 
Janet ignored the whole thing.
 
When the waiter then asked if they were ready to order, Janet put her
menu down.

“Are there any
specials today?” she asked in perfectly accented French.

The man smiled
and read off the list of specials from a card.
 
Janet asked several questions about how
certain dishes were prepared and about the various accompaniments, carrying on
the entire conversation in French, before she ordered.
 
Edward added his choices to the order,
his own French accent almost as good as Janet’s, and then handed their menus to
the waiter who bowed before he walked away.

“I’m an
idiot,” Edward said in a conversational tone as Janet took a sip of wine.
 
“I don’t blame you for thinking that I
am.”

“Not at all,”
Janet replied with a shrug.

Edward
chuckled.
 
“I didn’t expect you to
speak French, let alone speak it so very well.
 
I suspect you’re going to continue to
surprise me.”

“I’m a very ordinary
retired primary schoolteacher,” Janet told him.
 
“There’s nothing surprising or even
interesting about me.”

“So where did
you learn to speak French so beautifully?”

“When we were
much younger, Joan and I spent a few years teaching English in a small French
village,” Janet explained.
 
“And I
taught French at our village primary school for many years as well.”

“I underestimated
you and I’m sorry,” Edward said.
 
“I
like to think of myself as rather old-fashioned, but that doesn’t excuse me
acting like we’re still living in the nineteen-fifties when it comes to how I
treat people.”

“So what is it
you do that lets you buy fancy cars?” Janet asked, changing the subject.

“I work in
imports and exports,” Edward answered vaguely.
 
“Although I’m mostly retired now.”

“How does
‘mostly retired’ work?” Janet had to ask.

“I guess I
should say that I’m supposed to be retired,” Edward replied with a smile, “but
I get called every now and then to deal with various little things.”

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