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A whiff of scandal, p.1
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       A Whiff of Scandal, p.1

           Carole Matthews
 
A Whiff of Scandal


  A Whiff of Scandal

  Carole Matthews

  First published in Great Britain in 1998 by Headline Publishing Group

  Copyright © Carole Matthews 1998

  This edition published by Carole Matthews INK Ltd 2015

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  To

  Annie Murray and Linda Taylor for much needed support and humour. Vivien Garner for friendship and more plots than I could ever feasibly use in one lifetime. Darley for helping to keep my sensible head on in times of crisis.

  Sheila and Pauline for broad shoulders, words of wisdom which I constantly ignore to my cost, an unending supply of Kleenex and for helping me maintain some semblance of sanity in what has been a truly annus horribilis.

  And to one or two others who bring little rays of sunshine into my life . . .

  CONTENTS

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  The Cake Shop in the Garden

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter One

  ANISE

  A pale yellow oil with a sweet spicy fragrance reminiscent of liquorice. In large doses it has a narcotic effect. It should be used with extreme caution and in moderation only. Anise is good for aches and pains, particularly in the neck.

  from: The Complete Encyclopaedia of Aromatherapy Oils by Jessamine Lovage

  ‘She’s had men popping in and out of there all day,’ Anise said over her shoulder. ‘They’re more regular than our cuckoo clock.’

  There was a sharp edge to the winter morning, complementing perfectly the tone in Anise’s voice. Outside, cobwebs, rigid with frost, hung along the hedge like starched doilies bereft of fairy cakes, flung there with careless abandon after some wild tea party. The chill sun bounced off the ice crystals and glinted in her face, making it difficult to see. In her sitting room, Anise squinted and lifted the binoculars up to her eyes, her reading glasses clinking as they knocked against them. The binoculars were heavy and her arms were aching already.

  She watched the postman puffing up the hill, his breath making more steam than Thomas the Tank Engine. Shifting her position, she took her weight on her good leg and pointed the binoculars at the house across the road, whizzing them fuzzily across the barrier of leylandii and the spindly skeletal trees before focusing on the front door of number five Lavender Hill.

  ‘Nine fifteen.’ She glared at her younger sister who was reclining in an armchair, apparently staring into space. ‘Write it down!’

  Angelica sighed and picked up her notepad.

  ‘First one of the day. Tall. Caucasian. Male,’ Anise barked.

  Angelica paused with her pencil. She looked up at her sister. ‘What does Caucasian mean?’

  Anise turned and glared at her. ‘White, Angelica. White. Tall, white male. Don’t you ever watch NYPD or Hill Street Blues?’

  ‘No.’ Angelica shrugged and her face took on a ponderous look. ‘I’ve seen The Bill and the repeats of Heartbeat and I don’t remember them saying it on either of those.’ She put the pencil back to her notebook. ‘How do you spell Caucasian?’

  ‘Just put white,’ Anise snapped, returning to her binoculars. ‘Just put white.’

  ‘I’ve never seen a black man in Great Brayford. Do you think you need to specify white?’

  ‘The world is changing, Angelica,’ her sister replied crisply. ‘We could soon be overrun by foreigners. Vietnamese boat people or a tribe of South American Indians with wooden plates in their lips. There are thirty-five thousand Hong Kong Chinese moving into Milton Keynes. I read it in Buckinghamshire on Sunday. A few of them are bound to find their way to Great Brayford. She balanced the binoculars on her hip and wished fervently that the pins and needles would go out of her hands. It would hardly be on to rub them in front of Angelica and lose face. ‘And what about Mr Patel at the post office?’

  ‘He’s not black. He’s Asian. I don’t think that counts. But I suppose it just depends what the Cauc bit means really.’ She put her pencil in her mouth and chewed the end of it thoughtfully. ‘And he doesn’t have a wooden plate anywhere about his person, as far as I can tell.’

  Her sister glared at her again. ‘Are you deliberately being obtuse, Angelica?’

  ‘I just think you’re being rude about Mr Patel. He’s a very nice man. You should get to know him better. He always helps to tear the page out of my pension book. They don’t make perforations like they used to.’

  Anise tutted. ‘Let’s get on with it, shall we? I only have so long left to live.’ She raised the binoculars again. ‘Tall, white male. Light-grey pinstripe suit. White shirt. Not tailored. Loud, flashy tie. Too vulgar by half.’

  ‘Is it absolutely necessary to write down what he’s wearing?’

  Anise turned to glare at her sister for a third time. ‘How will we know if he comes out wearing the same clothes?’

  Angelica sat back in the armchair and languorously crossed her legs. ‘How will we know if he comes out at all unless you’re planning to keep watch all day?’

  ‘I thought I’d draw up a rota.’

  ‘Oh no, Anise.’ Angelica waved her hand emphatically. ‘You can count me out of that one. If you want to do this, you can do it by yourself. I don’t mind taking a few notes but you’re not getting me up there doing your dirty work. You know I don’t like heights.’

  ‘It’s four steps, Angelica. Four steps. I’m not asking you to scale the Eiffel Tower without a safety harness.’ She craned forward with her binoculars. ‘He looks suspiciously like Melvyn Bragg.’ She turned and snapped at her sister’s inertia. ‘Quick, quick – write it down. Write it down!’

  ‘Does he look like Melvyn Bragg now or before he grew his hair too long?’

  ‘What does that matter, for heaven’s sake?’

  ‘I would have thought it was quite important.’ Angelica brushed her hair from her forehead with a languid movement. She had seen the young Grace Kelly do it years ago in Dial M For Murder and it was an affectation she had practised ever since. She had it down to a fine art after all these years. Not that anyone ever appreciated it. It drove Anise insane. Partly because it drew attention to the fact that her hair was still generously flecked with soft honey tones rather than the harsh ice-grey that Anise’s had gone just after she turned sixty. She had looked remarkably like Catherine Deneuve until then – everyone used to say so. Fifteen years later, Anise’s skin was also grey
but she hid it skilfully with a liberal application of Max Factor, but people no longer made the Deneuve comparison. Her seventies had turned Anise old, cold and as hard as a boiled sweet.

  ‘If we’re noting down everything including the colour of his socks, the length of his hair seems quite pertinent. You could be a bit more specific, Anise. You haven’t said how old he is either.’

  ‘It’s hard to tell. He’s looking shifty, moving his head from side to side. Bugger. This hedge is in the way, we’ll have to get Basil to top the leylandii again.’

  ‘I think he’s getting too old for it.’ A look of concern crossed Angelica’s face. ‘Perhaps we need to get someone else in.’

  ‘We’re getting too old for it, that’s why we pay the lazy blighter to do it for us. Although the only thing I ever see him doing is leaning on his blasted spade watching the grass grow.’

  ‘Every time I see that Yellow Pages advertisement on television where they’re looking for a replacement lawnmower for their doddery old gardener, I think of Basil. I know he’s not been with us for very long, but I’d hate to see him move on.’

  ‘I’d love to see him move, full stop! I’ve seen garden gnomes that are more animated than Basil.’

  ‘Why don’t you speak to him then?’

  ‘You know what he’s like, Angelica. He can be so difficult.’

  ‘I would have thought you’d have a lot in common,’ Angelica said pleasantly.

  Anise eyed her sister, checking for any hint of sarcasm. Angelica stared innocently at her notebook, pencil still poised.

  ‘I must say though, I thought it was a tad out of order that he took a double-barrelled shotgun to the squirrel. After all, we put the nuts out specially for him. I miss his fluffy little tail.’

  ‘So do I, but unfortunately Basil didn’t.’ Angelica felt moved to find her lace handkerchief, but dared not leave her notebook unmanned while Anise was still looking at her.

  ‘I know, but what can we do? We need help and help is very hard to find. Good help is a myth perpetuated by the romanticism of Upstairs, Downstairs. It simply doesn’t exist. The BBC have a lot to answer for.’ She adjusted the binoculars. ‘Anyway, never mind Basil or the Beeb, that woman at number five has opened the door at last. She probably just fell out of bed. It looks like it.’

  ‘Do you want me to write down what she’s wearing or should I just stick to Melvyn Bragg?’

  ‘She’s got that same skimpy little white thing on again.’ Anise curled her lip in distaste. ‘I don’t know when it sees the washing machine. It seems to be permanently welded to her back.’

  ‘She could have more than one,’ Angelica pointed out helpfully.

  ‘Spendthrift!’

  ‘Anyway, it’s not skimpy. It looks like a uniform. All the hygienists at the dentist’s wear them. I think it’s quite smart.’

  ‘How can she be in uniform with hair that untidy? If she was a professional she’d have it tied back in a neat ponytail.’

  ‘That’s the fashion these days, Anise. The tousled look. It’s only the men that wear neat little ponytails. If you went to a hairdresser that had trained after the Great War, then you would know these things.’

  Anise resented Angelica’s snubbing the delights of Suzette’s Tuesday Pensioners’ Special, a five pound fright of rollered curls, barely combed out to a Mrs Mertonesque bouffant and lacquered rigidly into place so that it would last a week. ‘All I know is that I don’t want a haircut that means I have to re-mortgage the house,’ she retorted.

  To be fair, Anise came off quite well, Angelica thought. Suzette swept her hair into a sort of side chignon which, although it looked harsh, didn’t look stupid. For herself, she much preferred to go to one of those trendy salons in Milton Keynes where she was more likely to come out looking like Anthea Turner – despite the fact that the music was too loud and all the stylists wore black clothes and make-up like Morticia Addams.

  ‘And when did you last see a professional showing her knees?’ Anise went on. ‘That skirt barely covers her bottom.’ She put the binoculars down. ‘Damn! I’ve missed it! They’ve gone in now. I don’t know whether she kissed him or not.’ She pointed at Angelica’s notepad. ‘Just put, erotic contact unknown.’

  ‘You said she normally kisses them on the way out.’

  ‘She does. But she makes it look all innocent. Nothing more than a chaste peck. I’d like to know what she does to them while they’re in there.’

  ‘Mr Patel said she’s an aromatherapist.’

  ‘Mr Patel talks out of his jolly bottom.’

  Angelica found it hard to imagine Mr Patel’s bottom as jolly. ‘Why don’t we simply ask her what she does?’

  ‘Do you think she’d come clean? And, besides, if you were running a . . . a . . . bordello, would you want the world to know?’

  ‘I think it would be useful for attracting business.’

  ‘Attracting business!’ Anise made a humphing noise. ‘She’s the sort of woman that advertises in phone boxes.’

  ‘You seem to know an awful lot about running a bordello, Anise.’ Angelica closed her notepad and pushed the pencil through the spiral binding at the top. ‘I thought you’d led such a sheltered life.’

  ‘I know something suspicious when I see it,’ she said, wagging a malevolent finger. ‘And I will get to the bottom of this, Angelica, with or without your help!’ She snapped the binoculars closed decisively.

  ‘Would you like a hand getting down?’ Angelica offered. ‘That stepladder’s awfully high.’

  ‘Yes, dear.’ Anise had already held out her hand before she saw the smile that twitched her sister’s lips.

  Chapter Two

  ROSE

  A pale oil with a rich, sweet, floral and slightly spicy aroma. Rose is well-known for its healing properties and as the symbol of Venus – the goddess of love and beauty – often inducing feelings of wellbeing and tolerance in its user. Emotionally, it will bring out your deepest feelings and gladden an aching heart. Physically, it is good for cooling inflammations and swellings.

  from: The Complete Encyclopaedia of Aromatherapy Oils by Jessamine Lovage

  Unlike Sinead O’Connor, it had been considerably more than seven hours and fifteen days since he had taken his love away. It was actually getting on for three months now. But at least Sinead was right in one respect. Nothing Compares 2 U. Or 2 Hugh, in this case. Rose wondered if Sinead had shaved her head as an act of retribution. If so, it seemed a much stronger statement than simply moving out of London into a pleasant little village just south of Milton Keynes. Perhaps she should shave her head too. Hugh would have hated that. But that might just serve to make the locals even more suspicious of her than they seemed to be already. Goodness knows why. They were hardly all straw-chewers. There were only a couple of born and bred Great Brayforders left. In fact, most of the residents seemed to have been ‘Lunnuners’ themselves before they forsook their roots and became pseudo-country folk. So they really had no right to treat her like a two-headed intruder.

  Head-shaving did seem a bit drastic though. Besides, her mother had told her she had a head full of tiny bald spots where, as a child, chickenpox scabs had pulled her hair out and it had never regrown. Whenever her mother saw her, which was mercifully little these days, she examined her head for evidence and the doleful tutting told Rose that she was never disappointed.

  Rose had never managed to find one herself. She had persuaded various hairdressers to look for these corn circles in her hair but no trace had ever been found. In fact, they had gone as far as to tell her that she had nice hair. Hair to be envied. It was blonde and was best left to do its own thing rather than have fruitless hours spent on it trying to tame it. Generally, all things considered, it was quite reasonably behaved.

  Perhaps Sinead should have waited a bit longer before taking the BIC razor to her bonce. The pain of longing certainly did get less. Out of nowhere tiny gaps would appear in the seemingly endless queue of pain, allowing healing to squee
ze in almost unnoticed until suddenly one day you realised that you had gone for a few hours without feeling hollow and sick. Rose could now go for days – well, one day – without her stomach lurching every time the phone rang. Or wishing that he was here with her rather than who knows where. But these things hadn’t just happened since Hugh left. They had happened all the time he was supposed to be with her as well. And to be fair, he hadn’t exactly jumped out of their relationship, he had been given an almighty shove over the edge. She knew full well that it was impossible to expect everything in life to be as reliable as a Volkswagen but Hugh took the biscuit. In fact, he took the whole packet. There were limits even to the bounds of unreliability. Surely.

  Okay, so he was devastatingly handsome, intelligent, charming, witty, the life and soul of the party. He was successful, rich, powerful and even influential. And, of course, he was great in bed. He had to be, didn’t he? When have you ever met a man who scores so highly in every other area and then is lousy between the sheets? It goes with the turf. But was he reliable? No. It was not a quality that you could attribute to Hugh. He was about as reliable as a British Rail timetable.

  Rose moved a row of small brown bottles to one end of her shelf. The smear of oil was thick and sticky and would need large amounts of Jif and elbow grease to shift it. She should have mopped it up as soon as it was spilt. A whoosh of surgical spirit and that would have been it. But, no, she had been too busy; it had congealed and now she would pay the price of coaxing it away, hoping that it hadn’t left a telltale yellow ring on the white Formica shelf. Still, she shouldn’t complain about being busy. She had thought that business might tail off when she moved from London, but she had been lucky enough to have a steady stream of clients virtually from day one, mainly thanks to her established clients recommending her services to outlying friends and relatives.

  The doorbell rang and she put down her J-cloth, frowning at the clock as she did so. No one was due yet according to her diary; she had a gap of about an hour after Mr Sommerfield – who she always thought looked suspiciously like Melvyn Bragg – unless she’d made a cock-up with her appointments. She took her apron off and smoothed her white cotton uniform over her hips as she headed for the door.

 
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