As promised here is the first chapter of the third Amy Rowlings mystery: The Murder Awards.
The Murder Awards
Spinton Town Hall was built in 1910 in the popular Edwardian baroque style and consists of several large meeting rooms, a council chamber, complete with a huge colourful coat of arms above the mayor’s chair, and a nicely appointed assembly room which was the biggest space in the building and boasted a vaulted ceiling, oak panelled walls and a diamond patterned parquet floor. It was lit by two rows of low hanging crystal, waterfall, chandeliers with pairs of fan-shaped sconces set at intervals along the walls.
Amy Rowlings stood alongside a hungry and impatient, Acting Inspector Bodkin, in the mostly well-behaved queue for the buffet, which had been set out on a series of tables that took up almost the entire length of the room.
Amy was wearing a blue, thin strapped, calf length, bias cut dress with a plunging V back. She had finally bought it from Brigden’s nearly new fashion shop in the town after being tempted by it for weeks. It had taken a month to save the twenty-five shillings the dress had cost. Bodkin was dressed in his spare, navy blue work suit with a white shirt and blue tie. Bodkin could never look smart, no matter how well his clothing was pressed, it seemed to hang on him as though it was at least two sizes too big. Amy did her best to keep him on his feet, knowing that once he’d sat down for more than five minutes, his trousers would begin to rumple and look like he’d been wearing them for a week.
The detective looked longingly at the rows of plated up sandwiches, sausage rolls, quiches and cheese and pineapple speared sticks.
‘My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut,’ he said.
‘Bodkin, you were offered a sandwich before we left home, it’s your own fault.’
‘I wasn’t hungry then,’ he replied, sticking his neck out so he could look along the queue.
‘Bodkin?’ The detective swivelled around to find himself face to face with his old boss, Acting Superintendent Laws who had recently taken up a temporary post down in Maidstone.
‘This is a … erm, pleasant surprise, sir. I wasn’t expecting to see you here tonight.’
‘I thought I’d do my bit, Bodkin. Chief Superintendent Grayson has been my superior for twenty odd years. It would have been churlish of me not to come and see him get his public service award.’ He closed one eye as he thought. ‘What are you doing here though, that’s the question?’
Laws suddenly spotted Amy who was doing her best to hide behind a large woman just ahead of her in the queue. ‘And you have Miss Rowlings with you as usual. You two seem inseparable, even when you’re supposed to be at work.’
‘I was asked to stand in for Chief Inspector Harris, sir. He had to withdraw at the last minute, something to do with the case he’s working on.’
‘Hmm, well, you could have dressed for the occasion man. That looks suspiciously like your work suit.’
‘It is my work suit, sir. I only have two.’
Laws leaned forwards.
‘You could have hired appropriate clothing for the night, Bodkin. You’re not even wearing a bow tie, let alone white gloves.’
‘I couldn’t get hold of a pair of white gloves, sir. As I said, it was late notice, I wasn’t aware that I was coming until this afternoon.’
‘Your girlfr… erm Miss Rowlings seems to have got the dress code message.’ He held out his gloved hand to Amy. ‘You look very nice, my dear.’
Amy took his hand and shook it gently as she waited for Laws to return to type and berate her for involving herself in Bodkin’s cases. Instead, he smiled at her. ‘My erm, my wife couldn’t make it tonight, sadly. So, I brought my former secretary with me… where is the woman?’ Laws scanned the area looking for his guest. Ah, here she is.’ He put a podgy hand on the blonde woman’s back. ‘Bodkin, you already know Trixie, don’t you? Trixie, this is Miss Rowlings.’ Laws turned away as he spotted a waiter with a tray of drinks.
Amy’s heart sank. Trixie was a secretary at Spinton police station and lived in a flat on the floor below Bodkin’s at Bluecoat House. They had got off on the wrong foot and their relationship hadn’t improved since.
‘Oh, we’ve met, actually,’ Trixie said. Pinching up her face she looked Amy up and down. ‘You’re a machinist at the Mill, aren’t you? Did you make that dress yourself? You’re very clever.’
Amy glared back at the blonde bombshell. Trixie was a platinum blonde with bright, oval shaped, blue eyes and lips that looked like they had been inflated with a bicycle pump. She wore a glittering, white and silver, full length, off the shoulder gown, which showed off of her fulsome breasts to their best advantage.
Amy tipped her head slightly and examined Trixie’s dress carefully.
‘I actually bought mine, Trixie, but I think I might have run yours up at the factory. We do a lot of good quality dresses for the lower end of the market.’
As Trixie’s mouth dropped open, Bodkin took hold of Amy’s arm and hurried her away from the queue.
‘Don’t you dare tell me to calm down, Bodkin,’ Amy said, narrowing her eyes at the detective. ‘I’m perfectly calm.’
‘What is it with you two? Can’t you at least be civil to each other?’
‘Civil…? She doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Anyway, she started it, as usual.’
‘But couldn’t you have ignored her, just this once?’
Amy’s eyes opened wide.
‘You are joking aren’t you, Bodkin? If you think I’d let that… CREATURE, get the better of me then you really don’t know me as well as you think you do.’
‘It was a spiteful thing to say. I can see why you reacted.’ He took a pace back and admired her. ‘You look fabulous.’
‘Thank you, Bodkin. You look quite presentable too, very handsome, but please, I’m begging you, don’t sit down until you get home.’
When the fifty or so guests had finished their buffet meal, long-serving councillor Ray Dimple walked onto the stage and tapped the microphone twice to check it was working. Then, pulling out a typed sheet of paper from his inside pocket and after tapping the microphone once more, either for luck or reassurance, he cleared his throat and addressed the crowd.
Dimple was a fat man with button eyes, a turned up nose and a huge flap of sagging skin that hung over his collar almost hiding his white bow tie.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ he said in his flat, almost emotionless voice. ‘Tonight, we gather here to show our appreciation to some of the stalwarts of our community…’
Dimple droned on for a further five minutes, noting the achievements of the outgoing mayor before wishing the newly appointed mayor the ‘best of British luck’ for his tenure. The new mayor, councillor Robert McKenzie, climbed the three steps to the stage to polite applause and made a short speech, assuring the guests that he would do his best to live up to the standards set by his predecessor before handing over a silver plate, engraved with the town’s coat of arms to the former holder of the office.
As McKenzie left the stage, Dimple stepped up to the microphone again, and in his monotonous tone, announced that the Spinton Council, long service shield, would go to John Anthony, the clerk to the council, who was reluctantly retiring in two weeks’ time.
Dimple’s voice droned on as he presented awards to retiring or long serving council staff and Bodkin was beginning to find it harder and harder to stay awake. His head began to nod and he was only saved from falling asleep by a dig in the ribs from Amy’s elbow.
‘Grayson’s up,’ Amy hissed.
Bodkin shook his head to clear it and tried to concentrate on the ceremony.
‘… since the reorganisation of the Kent region police force and the building of the new police station, Spinton has seen a noticeable fall in crime…’
Bodkin almost choked.
‘What? We could do with building another cell block, we fill them up so quickly,’ he muttered.
‘… the man who has brought two evil murderers to justice this year alone, the man who keeps our streets safe for our families, Chief Superintendent Stuart Grayson!’
Bodkin and Amy got to their feet and applauded politely as Grayson took to the stage. Amy liked the man, he was so much friendlier than his underling, Laws, and had given permission for Amy’s one-woman band, investigations agency, ARIA to be given police accreditation.
‘You should be getting that award, Bodkin,’ she said in a stage whisper. ‘You caught the murderers, not him.’
‘They also serve who only stand and wait,’ Bodkin replied.
‘You see, you should be up there, you can quote John Milton. You really are full of surprises, Bodkin,’ Amy said, her eyes shining.
The Man of the Year Award went to a local businessman, Nelson Kelly. Dimple took a step back and applauded as the recipient climbed the steps to the stage.
Kelly was a handsome man who looked a few years younger than the forty summers he had actually been on the earth. His mop of unruly, straw-coloured hair flopped over one eye and had to be occasionally brushed back with a sweep of his white gloved hand. His company, Kelly and Crowston Development Limited had become very influential in the town over the last ten years and had been responsible for building not only the new police station and the apartment buildings that went with it, but had also set out a five-year plan for the development of the land on which a swathe of dilapidated Victorian houses stood. Kelly intended to build a new armaments factory on the site, a proposal that was backed by the government which had suddenly found itself years behind Nazi Germany in building up the country’s outdated military.
After a rousing speech, promising modernisation and prosperity for all, Kelly stepped down to a mixture of cheers and mutterings. His plans were not universally accepted in the town. A compulsory purchase order had recently been issued to allow the land to be acquired and more than a few owners of the ill maintained Victorian terraces, felt they had lost out financially on the deal.
As Kelly stood, surrounded by back slapping well wishers at the foot of the stage, a female cloak room attendant scurried in from the corridor on the right-hand side of the assembly room. She stood patiently for a full minute before announcing in a loud voice that there was a telephone call for Mr Kelly. She held out her arm before leading him down the passage to the telephone that was situated on the wall just outside the cloakroom.
A few minutes later, Grayson approached Bodkin with Laws and Trixie in tow. After congratulating his superior officer on his award, Bodkin introduced Amy.
‘You know Miss Rowlings of course. She’s the—’
‘ARIA investigations,’ Grayson said, enthusiastically. ‘Of course, how could I possibly forget.’ He beamed at Amy as he held out his gloved hand. ‘That was a fine piece of investigative work you carried out in the Villiers case, my dear. I only wish some of my officers possessed the same intelligence.’ He gave Bodkin a quick nod. ‘Present company accepted of course.’
Just then, a woman screamed, her voice carrying above the hum of twenty or so conversations.
Bodkin was first to react and hurried across the parquet floor towards the sound of the horrified scream. Amy weaved amongst the crowd behind him, trying not to trip as her two and a half-inch heels clicked staccato like across the wood block floor.
She reached the wide, airy corridor only a few yards behind the detective who, after taking in the scene for a few seconds, suddenly turned and held out his arms, trying to block the view of any onlookers.
‘Please, go back, stay in the assembly room,’ he said.
Amy took a pace to the side so that she could see what the now sobbing, woman had witnessed but she was soon caught up in a rush of bodies as the people behind her pushed forwards, eager to get a better view.
On the floor in the centre of the corridor lay the prone figure of a fair-haired man. He was lying on his back, his eyes and mouth wide open. His once white shirt now covered in blood. Sticking out from beneath his sternum was the bone handle of a cook’s knife. The front of the woman’s cream dress was covered in the man’s blood, as were her elbow-length white gloves. The fire exit door at the end of the passageway was wide open and the telephone handset was hanging on its chord. On the right, the double swing doors that led into the kitchen were wedged open. A caterer’s trolley, stacked with plates and cutlery had been parked up against the wall.
‘It’s Kelly,’ the word spread quickly through the circling crowd as they craned their necks to see the horror that lay just behind Bodkin.
‘Keep control here, Bodkin, I’ll ring for a bit of back up,’ Grayson said as he pushed his way through the crowd to get to the telephone.
Acting Superintendent Laws began to usher the horrified guests back into the assembly room.
‘Back off, please, there’s nothing to see here,’ he said.
Trixie put a hand to her mouth and then swooned into the arms of a tall, dark-haired businessman, who half led, half carried her to a nearby table, sat her down and began to fan her with an elegantly folded table napkin.
Amy stepped forward as the kneeling woman continued to sob uncontrollably. Crouching at her side, she put an arm carefully around her shoulder.
‘Shh, shh, help is on its way,’ she said soothingly.
The woman lifted her head and looked tearfully at Amy, the area under her eyes were smudged with black mascara.
‘Poor Nelson,’ she sobbed. ‘Who could do such a thing?’