azombiewrites: (Midsomer Murders)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: A Toast of Midsomer
Fandom: Midsomer Murders
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Crack!fic (I think), AU.
Rating: PG
Main Characters: DCI John Barnaby and DS Ben Jones and a couple of OMC's.
Disclaimers: A Bentley productions for ITV. Created and based on the books by Caroline Graham.
Spoilers: Set during season 14.
Author's Notes: I had a short dream. Unfortunately, the muse was awake at the time and decided he wanted to write it, so blame him not me.
Chapter Word Count: 6,235
Total Word Count: 17,936
Status: Complete

Summary: DCI John Barnaby and DS Ben Jones are drawn into a world where murder doesn't exist. At least not until Meredith Bernstein was found dead in her front garden with a knife in her chest. With the help of a psychic, a chef and a battery operated toaster, Barnaby and Jones try to solve a case that may be the first of many.






A Toast of Midsomer

Chapter Two


Reaching the victim first, Jones ground to a stop, heels scraping through lose gravel. He grimaced at the sight before him. Recognition made; the victim was the elderly woman who had ridden past him earlier on her bike. The woman who had taken the time to greet him, going out of her way to welcome a stranger . . . Heart pounding in his chest, the adrenaline pumped through his veins. A growing belief this was real, no longer a dream, his breathing became erratic, the anxiety building in his chest.

The sound of feet on gravel, the others so close . . .

Feeling dizzy, Jones bent forward, hands on his knees, his balance uncertain. A long, deep breath . . . the smell of toast. It all felt so real . . .

A hand on his back. “Jones?”

He took his time, as long as he needed; it was his dream. Minutes passed before he stood upright, turning to face Barnaby. The look of concern on Barnaby’s face caused Jones to take a step back, the emotion surprising him. Barnaby followed him, reaching toward him.

Jones waved him off, a ready excuse forming. “I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” It sounded reasonable in his head but putting a voice to his reasoning made it sound so . . . stupid. This was a dream. He shouldn’t be feeling anything. He shouldn’t be out of breath. He shouldn’t be dizzy. He shouldn’t be hungry. Why couldn’t he just wake up . . .

Because it wasn’t a dream.

Agnes stepped forward, his toaster held out toward Jones. “Toast?”

Oh god. How could this be real?

A hand snapped forward, gripping the back of Agnes’s shirt, pulling the chef back. Clyde glared at him, his first show anger. “You can’t give him my toast, Agnes.”

Indignant, Agnes said, “Why the hell not, Clyde? The man’s hungry.”

Breath held in his chest, all Jones could do was watch.

“We don’t know what will happen if Sergeant Jones eats my conductor for transitory travel and stability.”

“Well, he won’t go hungry.”

“What if he destabilises the stability of transitory travel?”

“He goes home,” said Agnes.

“Or he blows up just like Lewis and Hathaway.”

“I thought the butter and the burnt toast blew them up?”

“Yes it did, but we can’t take the chance,” said Clyde.

“If he does explode, you can apologise to him.”

“Sarcasm, Agnes?”

“Yes, Clyde. Sarcasm”

“We can’t take the risk.”

Barnaby stepped forward. “Or you can buy us lunch at the local pub.”

“What about Hester Burton?” said Clyde, pointing at the dead woman on the ground.

Barnaby looked at the body. Turned to look back at Clyde. “After we deal with Hester Burton.”

Hester lay on her left side on the side of the road, her legs tangled in her bike as though she’d done nothing but fall over; a large, brown leather bag caught beneath her body. Stuck in her chest . . . a long, handled knife, a pool of blood gathered around the entry wound. No visible injuries on her hands or forearms.

Jones reached into a coat pocket, pulling out a pair of blue disposable gloves. Stretching the gloves over his fingers, his hands, he crouched down. Close to the body, the smell of blood strong, Hester’s death so fresh. His gaze searched her body: her eyes closed and her mouth open, skin pale. The red flower pattern on her white dress made it difficult to find. Stomach turning queasy, Jones finally found it, the scrap of paper folded and hidden beneath the wide shoulder strap of her dress.

Unsure if he should remove it, Jones looked back over his shoulder at Barnaby. He raised an eyebrow, asking a question. Barnaby nodded back at him. A glance at the victim’s features, a muttered apology, Jones lifted the strap with his right hand, pulled the piece of paper away with his left. He stood up and stepped back. With Barnaby beside him, Jones unfolded the paper . . .

Four words written in dark ink . . .

‘Gary Potter did it.’

Jones lifted his gaze, found his boss staring back at him. Opened his mouth, ready to express his acceptance that this was real, but the words stumbled, collapsing over each other . . . snapped his mouth shut when Barnaby gave him the look. Jones frowned, turned away and removed a plastic bag from the inside of his jacket. He put the evidence in the bag, sealed it shut and stuffed it back into his pocket.

Walking away, Jones kept his gaze down, searching the ground around the body . . .

“Is he looking for evidence?” said Clyde, taking a large bite of toast. Without looking, he wiped the crumbs from his shirt.

Barnaby looked away from Jones, stared at Clyde. “Yes, he’s looking for evidence.”

“Aren’t you going to help?”

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” said Barnaby.

“I only need one,” said Clyde.

“Michelin star chef for sod’s sake,” said Agnes as he placed a fresh slice of bread into the toaster. Pressed the button, began the process of toasting it. “And I’m not even getting paid for this.”

“Are we going to go through this again?”

“I’m a mich--”

“I’ll make sure you get a second Michelin star for cooking toast,” said Clyde.

“Really?”

Clyde looked at Agnes. Agnes looked at Clyde. Barnaby looked at Agnes.

“Sarcasm, Agnes,” said Barnaby.

“Bastard,” said Agnes.

Jones ignored the conversation, concentrating on the ground beneath him. Taking care of where he placed his feet, Jones circled the body, looking for anything that would help solve the case. This was real. This world was real and he wasn’t going home . . . not until they found the killer . . . or . .

No, he couldn’t take the chance. Removing the toaster from Agnes, stopping the process of transitory stability could result in his and Barnaby’s death. He didn’t want to get blown up . . .

Jones closed his eyes, took a slow breath . . . if he woke up at this very moment, he would feel like a complete and utter idiot, face red with embarrassment . . . He waited. Nothing happened.

Still here. Everything still so real.

He paused in his search, narrowed his gaze. Cursed beneath his breath, there was nothing to see. No footprints other than his own, nothing to indicate another person had been in close proximity to the victim. Jones returned to the body. Knelt down. Fingers gripping the leather bag, he pulled it from beneath the body.

Standing up, he moved away, back to Barnaby’s side. He opened the bag, began a futile search, finding nothing. The bag was empty.

“It’s empty,” said Jones.

Clyde sighed. “Hester loved that bag.”

“Loved it more than was natural,” said Agnes.

“Pathologist,” said Barnaby, “Do you have one?”

“No,” said Agnes.

“Pathologist?” said Clyde.

Agnes looked at Clyde. “To determine cause of death, Clyde. Haven’t you been listening?”

“Hard to hear sometimes when I’m constantly chewing on a piece of toast,” said Clyde, taking a bite of toast. “Besides, Hester has a knife in her chest. I would say that would cause death.”

“Forensics?” said Barnaby.

Clyde and Agnes looked at each other.

“You said you had crime here,” said Barnaby. “But you don’t have a pathologist or crime scene investigators--”

“Crime scene inv--”

“Forensics,” said Barnaby.

“Right,” said Clyde, taking a bite of toast before tilting his head to the side and pointing to his left ear.

“What sort of crime do you have?”

“Well,” said Clyde. “Young Johnny Smith likes to play on the cricket pitch.”

Jones raised an eyebrow.

Agnes explained. “There’s a ‘Don’t Play On The Cricket Pitch’ sign but he ignores it all the time.”

“And next to that there’s a ‘Don’t Ignore The Sign’ sign,” said Clyde. “But he ignores that too. And old Douglas MacBath likes to steal condoms from the corner shop.”

“Can’t get it up anymore though,” said Agnes.

“Likes to keep a healthy supply just in case,” said Clyde. “Douglas always was a dreamer.”

“Never a lover,” said Agnes.

Barnaby held up a hand, palm facing the two men. “So, you don’t have serious crime?”

Clyde looked at Agnes. Agnes looked at Clyde.

“We’ll take that as a no,” said Barnaby.

Jones, no longer able to stay out of the conversation said, “You don’t have a police force.”

Not a question, a simple statement.

Agreement made. “Never really needed one,” said Clyde.

“Until now,” said Agnes.

Clyde took another bite of toast, hand brushing away the crumbs. “What do you do now?”

Lips thin, Barnaby turned to look at Jones. “This is your dream, Jones. What are you planning to do now?”

Back straight, chin up, Jones said, “This isn’t a dream, sir.”

Barnaby took a moment, an expression of contemplation on his features. He looked away, a few seconds alone, turned back, nodded. “We need a large paper bag.”

Clyde frowned. “Are you hyperventilating?”

“We need to preserve the evidence. The knife.”

Agnes frowned. “You’re going to refrigerate it?”

He may have accepted this was real but it still felt like he was in hell.

“No,” said Barnaby, his patience hard to locate. “If the killer didn’t wear gloves, he or she would have left their fingerprints on the handle of the knife. We can lift those prints and when we find a suspect, we can compare the prints. If they match, we have the killer.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you ask your suspect if they killed Meredith and Hester?” said Clyde.

“They may not admit the truth.”

“They might lie?”

“That’s what he said, Clyde,” said Agnes.

“How are you going to lift their prints off the knife?”

Barnaby looked at Jones.

Always the lackey. “I’ll need starch powder, a small saucer, a candle, a knife, a shaving brush, clear sticky tape and a piece of white, thin cardboard.”

“We’ll also need a digital or instant camera,” said Barnaby.

“You want to take photos?” said Clyde. “Of Hester?”

“Bit morbid isn’t it?” said Agnes.

“We take photos of the victim and the crime scene so we can refer to them later.”

Clyde frowned. Agnes mirrored his expression.

“Trust us,” said Barnaby. “We know what we’re doing.”

“And,” said Jones. “We can deal with Johnny Smith.”

“Harry!” said Clyde, yelling around a mouth full of toast.

Agnes shook his head. “He’ll be back inside watching his porn. He has a thing for Hillbilly Jane.”

Jones didn’t want to know what Agnes meant by ‘thing’.

.
.
.

They sat in a corner of the local pub. The afternoon crowd small, their conversations muted; too busy staring at the two strangers to take part in idle chatter. Jones looked around the small pub, everything so similar to the pubs back home; the harsh light, the dark colors reminding him that this wasn’t home. It was giving him a headache. He looked down at his plate of fish and chips. His stomach turned at the thought, unsure if it would taste the same . . . he pushed the plate away, contemplated the pint of ale. Decided against it, not sure, if it would sit right in his stomach.

He was going to be here longer than he hoped, their stay extended . . .

There had been no prints on the knife. No prints on the note left at the scene.

A search of Hester’s home had yielded nothing; so much like Meredith.

“Tell us about Hester Burton,” said Barnaby, plunging his fork into his steak and kidney pie.

Agnes stayed quiet, content with drinking his beer.

Clyde wiped the crumbs from his shirt. “Hester was different . . .”

Jones raised his gaze. “Different how?”

“She didn’t like people,” said Clyde, hesitating. “She liked . . . things.”

“Like the bag she had with her?”

“And her bike. She was always riding her bike.”

Agnes snorted.

“But everyone liked her.”

“Everyone likes everyone here,” said Barnaby.

“Except Hester,” said Clyde. “She liked her things more than people.”

“Did she go to Meredith’s Sunday roasts?”

“Yes, but she always sat alone.”

“With her bag and her bike,” said Agnes, hugging his toaster.

A second victim who lacked family and friends. Jones didn’t think that was a coincidence, a connection between the two victims. A possible motive; the killer believing they were committing a kindness, putting two lonely people out of their misery. Once a week, Meredith’s home filled with people enjoying her Sunday roasts, the rest of her week empty of companionship. Hester, her only companions, a leather bag and a bicycle; a lonely life no one had the right to end.

“And Harry went to Meredith’s Sunday roasts?”

“Yes. His porn isn’t on Sunday afternoons.”

“Did Harry have anything against Hester?” said Barnaby.

No one-legged Mr. Spiggot jokes. Please.

“No. Harry didn’t dislike anyone--”

“Except Dick Henderson,” said Agnes.

“Who is Dick Henderson?” said Barnaby.

“Hillbilly Jane’s onscreen partner,” said Clyde, sighing, his eyes glazed. “What a guy.”

Barnaby raised an eyebrow and looked at Agnes.

Agnes looked back at him, a smile spreading across his features. “Clyde has a thing for Dick.”

Barnaby nodded, looked at Jones.

Jones didn’t want to know.

“Hester,” said Barnaby, staring back at Clyde. “Did she have any enemies?”

“Well,” said Clyde, rejoining the conversation. “She did throw away her last bike. They didn’t get on apparently.”

He couldn’t get up and walk away. The situation too real.

“Are you sure this isn’t a dream?” said Barnaby, turning to look at Jones.

Jones snorted.

They fell silent.

Minutes passed.

Jones looked away, gaze settling on a young woman sitting on the other side of the room. Familiarity settled in his mind. A difficult attempt to place where he had seen her before. It slapped him in the face, body jerking at the memory. She had driven by in her car before Hester Burton had ridden by. Maybe she had seen something. Pushing his chair back, Jones stood, moved away from the table. He walked toward the woman.

She looked up, saw him, stood up and quickly walked away.

He didn’t voice a protest. Didn’t ask her to stay where she was. He followed her knowing Barnaby would be right behind him. His pace quickened, turning into a run as he chased her through the open doorway to the outside. Jones stopped outside the door, Barnaby joining him seconds later, Clyde and Agnes not far behind.

“Jones?”

Turning in a circle, Jones looked for any sign of the woman. Not seeing her, he looked for her car.

Found it. She was driving toward him, her speed increasing.

Jones crossed her path, leaving Barnaby behind, moving to the other side of the road the locals considered a driveway.

“What’s he doing?” asked Clyde, taking a bite out of his toast.

Agnes, placing a fresh slice of bread in his toaster, said, “Crossing the road, Clyde.”

“Sarcasm, Agnes?”

“No, Clyde. He’s crossing the road.”

As she came closer, Jones waved his hand in an attempt to slow her down, to stop her. Speed still increasing, the car came so close, would miss him by inches . . .

Everything happened so quickly . . .

The driver’s door sprang open. So close, Jones couldn’t get out of the way. The door slammed into him, hard against his left side, knocking him back. His knees collapsed beneath the weight of pain, body falling to the ground, landing on his back. Bloody hell. Body still, unwilling to move, the pain too much, Jones made every effort to take a breath. It wasn’t easy; sure, the collision had caused damage.

Breaking out of his shock, Barnaby ran across the road, falling to his knees beside his sergeant. “Jones?”

A breath finally taken, the pain increased. Jones closed his eyes, willing the pain away.

“Jones?” said Barnaby, his tone more urgent, insistent.

“Give me a minute,” said Jones, his voice a painful whisper.

It felt like his side was on fire, a match lit and placed against flesh. Something must be broken. A steady breath, the pain sharp, centered across his ribcage. A hand on his shoulder, fingers digging into flesh, physical contact. He breathed a little easier, the pain not as bad. Jones opened his eyes, blinked. Another minute taken. Now ready to move, he lifted his head . . . not a very good idea. He felt a little nauseous, a little dizzy. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes. Took a long, slow breath, letting it out. The tension eased from his body, muscles relaxing but damn, it still hurt.

“Doctor Hardy’s office is just down the road,” said Clyde, appearing behind Barnaby, leaning over the inspector’s shoulder. He looked down at Jones, bit into his toast. Wiped the crumbs from his shirt, the flakes of toast falling onto the back of Barnaby’s jacket. Clyde frowned and scraped the crumbs from the Inspector’s jacket. Satisfied, he looked back at Jones. “Does this sort of thing happen often?”

.
.
.

Jacket and tie removed, Jones sat in a comfortable leather chair, empty stomach full of painkillers. Legs stretched outward, head resting against the back of the chair, he closed his eyes and tried to ignore the nausea rolling through his stomach. He felt lightheaded, still dizzy . . . at least the pain was now bearable. He let out a breath, a comfortable sigh escaping. Body exhausted, it felt too long since he last slept. Mind drifting, he listened to the soft conversation taking place on the other side of Hardy’s surgery.

“Mostly bad bruising,” said Doctor Hardy, pushing his glasses back onto a nose set in a round face. “He’s going to be sore for a while but he’s okay, no serious damage. He’s lucky he wasn’t standing in front of the car.”

“Thank you, Doctor Hardy,” said Barnaby.

“You’re not from around here are you?”

“They’re helping us to find the person who killed Meredith and Hester,” said Clyde.

“I’m going to miss her Sunday roasts. She made the best . . . person who killed her?”

“Someone put a knife in their chests,” said Agnes.

“That’s never happened before,” said Hardy. “Hester too?”

Clyde nodded.

“What about her bag and bike? Who is going to take care of them?”

“We’ll find someone.”

Hardy nodded. “I won’t bother writing a script. I’ll just go and get some sample painkillers instead for your friend. Maybe some muscle relaxants in case he stiffens up.”

“He hasn’t got time to watch afternoon porn,” said Agnes, smiling at Barnaby.

Barnaby frowned at Agnes.

“Of course,” said Hardy. “I’ll just . . .”

Barnaby thanked Hardy again.

Hardy nodded a second time and left the room.

Privacy assured, Barnaby looked at Clyde and said, “Do you know that woman?”

Clyde frowned, confusion drawing his eyebrows together.

“The woman in the car,” said Barnaby.

“No. I’ve never seen her before.”

“And we know everyone in the village,” said Agnes, his gaze watching Jones.

“And the surrounding villages,” said Clyde. “She’s a stranger to us.”

“Like we are,” said Barnaby.

Clyde smiled. “We’re not strangers, Inspector Barnaby, we . . .”

Barnaby closed his eyes, released an elongated breath, his frustration evident.

“Sorry,” said Clyde.

Agnes touched Clyde’s shoulder, gaining his attention. He nodded toward Jones.

Clyde moved toward the chair, toward Jones. He stopped beside the chair, reached toward Jones, poked him in the side, Jones’s left side, and quickly stepped back out of the way.

Body jerking with surprise and then pain, Jones cursed, angry gaze settling on Clyde.

Clyde went red with embarrassment.

“You can’t fall asleep,” said Agnes.

Still embarrassed, Clyde could only nod in agreement.

Agnes’s words repeated, Jones said, “Why the hell not, Clyde?”

Agnes looked at Clyde. “This is your thing, Clyde. Explain it to the man.”

“If you fall asleep,” said Clyde, “you’ll go back to your own world.”

Bloody hell. You did not just say that.

Barnaby, now standing on the other side of the chair, gave Clyde the look. “Why didn’t you tell us this before?”

“Would you have stayed if I did?”

“Of course we would have,” said Barnaby.

“But you believed it was a dream. If I gave you an out, you would have taken it. You would have tried to sleep so you could wake up.”

“Don’t confuse him, Clyde,” said Agnes.

“He’s not confused, Agnes.”

“I’m not confused, Agnes--”

“I am,” said Jones, keeping his gaze down, eyelids drooping. The thing he wanted to do most, he now realises he can’t do. He needed to sleep, the painkillers leaving him feeling drowsy. Staying awake was going to be difficult. Just the thought caused his mind to wander, his eyes to close as the conversation continued around him.

“This isn’t a dream. We know that now. This is real and you need help to stop a killer.”

“Oh,” said Clyde, mouth now open in surprise.

“Close your mouth, Clyde,” said Agnes.

“We’re very grateful to both of you,” said Clyde, snapping his hand forward, back of his fingers roughly tapping the side of Jones’s face.

Eyes snapping open, Jones could only glare up at Clyde.

“Could she be from our world?” said Barnaby, ignoring his sergeant. “Could she have travelled from there to here.”

“You said you didn’t have transitory travel--”

“We don’t but you said you’ve never had a murder before.”

“We haven’t.”

“We have a problem then,” said Barnaby. “Either we’ve discovered a way to travel between worlds or someone here has discovered how to commit murder.”

“It can’t be us,” said Clyde. “It’s unthinkable. We all like each other--”

“Except Hester,” said Agnes.

“Hester is dead,” said Barnaby. “It can’t be her.”

“There’s no one else,” said Clyde.

“What about Harry?”

“What about Harry?” said Agnes, stepping forward.

“We investigate the spouse. The boyfriend or girlfriend. We even investigate the children . . . we investigate the person who found the victim. And in this case, Harry found both victims.”

“Harry wouldn’t leave his porn--”

“Or Hillbilly Jane,” said Agnes.

“--to kill someone. Every afternoon, six days a week, Henry sticks to that lounge like glue.”

Agnes raised an eyebrow, winked at Barnaby.

Barnaby held up his hand, palm outward . . . thought better of it, dropped his hand back to his side. “We have no idea when she was killed--”

“Three days ago,” said Clyde.

“She could have been killed in the morning,” said Barnaby. “Where would Harry have been in the morning?”

“That won’t work. People pass by Meredith’s cottage on the way to the pub. They would have seen her.”

“And Harry said he heard her scream while he was watching his porn,” said Agnes.

“He could be lying.”

“Harry doesn’t lie. He’s not capable of lying.”

“Harry wasn’t driving that car,” said Agnes, looking down at Jones.

“And, Hester was killed in the afternoon. Harry would have been sitting on his couch watching Hillbilly Jane.”

“He left his couch at some point because he saw Hester lying on the side of the road.”

“Commercial break,” said Agnes.

“Enough time to kill someone?”

“Enough time to wash your hands,” said Agnes. “When he’s watching porn, he washes his hands . . . a lot.”

Clyde shook his head. “It’s not Harry. Call it a gut feeling. A psychic feeling. Harry didn’t do it.”

“Now you’re getting the idea,” said Barnaby.

“What idea?” said Clyde.

“How this works,” said Barnaby.

“I don’t get it,” said Clyde, turning to look at Agnes. “Sarcasm?”

“Hell no,” said Agnes.

“We need to find this woman,” said Barnaby.

Clyde took a large bite of toast. “How?”

Barnaby looked down at Jones.

“She drove past Meredith’s cottage just before Hester rode past,” said Jones. ”I thought she might have seen something.”

“She rode that bike every day,” said Clyde.

“All day every day,” said Agnes. “Except for Sunday afternoons.”

“She loved that bike.”

Agnes offered Clyde a piece of toast. “More than was natural.”

Clyde took the proffered toast, nodded in agreement.

Jones pulled his heels back toward the chair and sat up. The pain in his side, his hip, now a dull ache, the painkillers working. A deep breath and then he pushed up, lifting his body out of the chair. Balance unsteady, he took a breath and waited. His balance gaining confidence he turned and looked at Barnaby, again surprised by the look of concern on Barnaby’s features.

“She must have seen me standing on the side of the road,” said Jones, looking away, staring at Clyde instead.

Barnaby nodded in understanding. “She recognised you too. That’s why she ran.”

“The thing is . . . I’m sure I’ve seen her before.”

“Our world is very similar to yours. Everything and everyone will look familiar. It’s to be expected,” said Clyde.

“No. She looked familiar in the way that I’ve seen her before.”

“Here?” said Barnaby.

“I’m not sure. It’ll come to me.”

Barnaby nodded. “She’s our first suspect.”

“I’m pretty sure she killed Meredith and Hester,” said Jones. “Why else would she try to run me down?”

“Just like that?” said Clyde. “You come to a conclusion because someone tried to run you down with a car. I expected something more theatrical.”

“Getting hit by a moving car door isn’t theatrical enough for you, Clyde?” said Agnes.

“Well . . . I expected a gathered crowd and an announcement . . .”

“You read too much Agatha Christie, Clyde,” said Agnes.

“You have Agatha Christie?” said Barnaby.

“Who doesn’t,” said Agnes, shrugging his shoulders.

“Do they know who she is,” said Jones, nodding toward Clyde and Agnes.

“No, she’s a stranger.”

“Like us?”

“It’s possible.”

Jones shook his head, placed his palm against his forehead, a sudden headache bashing against the inside of his skull. He was confused, everything making no sense. He’d only just convinced himself that this was all real. Now he had to accept the fact that someone was travelling between worlds killing people. Maybe it was better if he could pretend he was still dreaming . . . a stab of pain through his left side convinced him otherwise. This was still real . . . too real. People were dying in both worlds.

“And our victim, sir?”

“Someone was killed in your world?” said Clyde.

Barnaby nodded. “It happens too often.”

“That’s so sad.”

“Don’t patronise him, Clyde.”

Clyde looked offended but shrugged it off.

“And our victim had the same note as yours,” said Barnaby.

“’Gary Potter did it’,” said Jones, nodding.

“Who’s Garry Potter?” said Clyde.

Barnaby sat down on the arm of the chair, a thoughtful look on his features. “We thought he was our killer but now . . . it’s possible Gary Potter is our victim.”

Clyde shook his head. “I’m confused.”

“Have some toast,” said Agnes, leaning toward Clyde, a fresh piece of toast sitting high in the toaster.

Clyde took the toast and ate it silence.

“If Garry Potter is our victim, and this woman is the killer, then she’s putting the blame on Potter. She’s telling us that he drove her to it.”

“She was angry when she killed Potter,” said Jones. “But she wasn’t angry when she killed Meredith and Hester. Why?”

Clyde looked at Agnes. Agnes looked at Clyde. They smiled.

A light bulb went off in Jones’s head. “She knew Potter but she didn’t know Meredith and Hester.”

Barnaby nodded. “Her anger toward Potter grew over time and then something happened. Or he did something that made her snap.”

“Then why come here or come back here and kill Meredith and Hester?”

“We’ll ask her that when we find her,” said Barnaby, looking at Clyde. “Did you recognise the car she was driving?”

“Yes,” said Clyde. “It belonged to Meredith.”

He was ready to hit someone.

“Why didn’t you tell us that before?”

“You didn’t--”

“Don’t,” said Jones.

Clyde snapped his mouth closed.

“Is there any way you can ask the villagers to keep an eye out for the car?”

“Yes. We can tell Hazel. She spreads gossip like it was a highly contagious virus.”

“I want people to look for the car. If they see it, they call you. Understand?”

Clyde nodded. Agnes nodded.

Barnaby gave them the look, waited them out. Clyde and Agnes collected themselves, pulled out two mobile phones between them. Clyde scowled at Agnes who put his phone back in his pocket. Within seconds, Clyde was talking to Hazel. Barnaby turned his back to them.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, sir. Just sore.”

“You’re sure?”

Jones was hoping for that particular expression Barnaby was so capable of, his current expression making Jones feel a little too uncomfortable. They got on, as well as an Inspector and his sergeant could but Barnaby kept a wall between them, a close friendship something the older man didn’t want. There were still times when Jones felt unwelcome in the Barnaby home, Mrs. Barnaby more welcoming than her husband. But every now and then, Barnaby surprised him, showing concern when he least expected it . . . like now.

Like today, too many times today . . .

“Yes, sir.”

Barnaby looked like he wanted to say more, Jones grateful when the surgery door opened. Doctor Hardy entered his surgery, hands full he closed the door with the heel of his left foot; something he’d obviously done many times before, the door closing with a soft click. Their conversation interrupted Jones turned away from Barnaby.

“I haven’t got much,” said Hardy, moving closer to Jones, “but these should help. I do suggest you only take them when absolutely necessary. And if you do stiffen up,” he glanced at Agnes then back to Jones, “take a long hot bath before you resort to the muscle relaxants.”

Agnes stepped forward.

Jones knew what was coming.

“Just don’t take them while you’re taking a bath,” said Agnes with a smile. “If you know what I mean.”

“No,” said Jones, knowing exactly what he meant. “I don’t.”

“Straight over his head, Agnes,” said Clyde, staring down at his mobile.

“Thank you,” said Jones, taking the medication, hiding them away in a pocket of his trousers.

“No, Clyde. That was sarcasm.”

“I’m really not getting the hang of this, am I, Agnes?”

“Not in your nature, Clyde.”

“Thank you, Agnes.”

“You’re welcome, Clyde,” said Agnes. “Toast?”

Clyde took a slice of toast out of the toaster and took a large bite. A smile grew over his features as he looked at Jones, then Barnaby . . . he stopped chewing, his expression frozen at the sight of Barnaby. He swallowed his toast. “Hazel is spreading the gossip. If someone sees Meredith’s car, they’ll call me.”

“It’s parked out front,” said Hardy, moving behind his desk and sitting down. He shifted his glasses, pushing them further up his nose. Picked up a pen and began to write up the notes of his consultation . . .

Jones moved first. Ignoring the sharp twinge of pain in his side, he grabbed his jacket from the back of the leather chair, putting it on as he made his way to the door. Barnaby beat him to it, opening the door, moving through the doorway before Jones. The pain and medication were slowing him down.

They made it outside, coming to a stop, searching the area for Meredith’s car. They found it parked on the side of the road a few doors down from the surgery, the front end of the car facing away from them. Jones bent his knees, lowering his upper body. Shaded by a large birch tree, it was difficult to see inside the car. He stood upright and looked across at Barnaby. Jones nodded toward the left side of the car. Barnaby returned the nod and began to move slowly toward the right side of the car.

Jones walked around the back of the car. There was no reflection in the side-view mirror. Sure, the car was empty, he began to look around, searching for the woman Barnaby wouldn’t be able to recognise. He couldn’t see her . . .

She stepped out of the shadows, her gaze watching him. A moment frozen, Jones unable to move, the memory of what happened earlier flashing through his mind. He wasn’t going off on his own this time . . . the way she had killed Gary Potter, the woman capable of such violence.

She stood just over five feet, her frame athletic, brown hair worn short. She smiled. Turned and walked away, back into the shadows, appearing seconds later as she entered a thin laneway.

“Sir,” said Jones, pointing toward the spot she had stood only moments before.

Barnaby came up beside him and listened to the short description Jones gave him. Jones stepped onto the road. A strong grip on his arm pulled him back. Jones frowned, confused. Understanding came slowly, Jones nodding that he understood.

Barnaby turned back to the surgery, stepped back in surprise to find Clyde and Agnes standing so close. “Where does that laneway lead to?”

“It leads to the next street,” said Clyde.

“Is there a way to cut her off?” said Jones.

He expected an answer that would cause his anger to grow, their naivety pushing his limits so close to breaking point.

“If you go through Sarah’s Coffee house,” said Clyde, pointing at the building on the left side of the laneway. “There’s a back door that will put you on the road where the laneway leads.”

“And, just so you know,” said Agnes. “At the end of the laneway, across the road there’s an abandoned building.”

That sounded ominous.

With no backup apart from each other, Jones and Barnaby separated. Barnaby instinctively headed toward the laneway. Jones knew his boss was being protective, another surprise. He shook off the emotion and ran across the road. He could hear footsteps behind him, the smell of toast drifting across his senses. He looked back over his shoulder, held his hand up, body language telling Clyde and Agnes to stay back. They nodded in understanding. Jones opened the door to the coffee shop.

It was crowded, so many people. Jones made his way through the maze of tables, toward the back of the room, his sight on the exit sign, the pain pulling at his side and hip. He found the back door, opened it and stepped back out into the sunlight. Looking to his right, he found Barnaby who shook his head; they’d lost her.

Not yet.

Ominous just became real.

The abandoned building was obvious; standing out like a haunted mansion, the structure more like a cottage than anything else. Windows boarded, the front door hung off two broken hinges. And, like a ghost, she disappeared through the small, dark gap of the front door and into the abandoned building.

Heart sinking, Jones knew they had to go in there. They had no choice; a good chance she would escape through another exit, their suspect lost for a second time. One look at Barnaby and Jones knew his boss was having the same thoughts. They moved as one, making their way to the front door of the cottage.

A smell of toast and the soft sound of footsteps behind them.

They stopped, Barnaby turning around to face Clyde and Agnes and in harsh whisper said, “Stay here!”

Clyde looked at Agnes. Agnes looked at Clyde.

Jones looked down the street, a collection of cottages and small business; it was quiet . . . eerie. The light too harsh, the colors too dark, a reminder this wasn’t his world. Anything could go wrong . . .

Jones always went in first, an act that had become second nature but Barnaby held him back. Jones realised Barnaby didn’t think he was up to the job, a nasty set of bruising sending Jones to the back of the line.

Barnaby went in first, squeezing his way through the gap, disappearing inside . . . a few moments of silence, Jones about to follow . . .

A soft thump . . .

Jones, not thinking, instead reacting, pushed through the gap, bruised side brushing against the doorframe. He grimaced in pain, expression falling when he saw Barnaby on the floor.

Barnaby was trying to sit up, elbows buckling every time he began to make progress. A quick survey of the room; they were alone. Jones knelt down beside Barnaby, hands and eyes searching for an injury.

“She stabbed me,” said Barnaby, reaching behind his back.

Barnaby leaned forward, giving Jones better access. Jones’s gaze searched Barnaby’s back, finding nothing. He looked down. An empty syringe lay on floor. She had injected . . .

A familiar sensation crawled along his spine, settling at the base of his neck. Jones turned on his heels . . . too late . . .

A blur of movement, violent and too fast for Jones to follow, pain striking the side of his skull. He fell, face first, body hitting the floor. Darkness made an unwelcome intrusion.

Jones closed his eyes . . .





Part One | Part Two | Part Three


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