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: 6,590
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 One

Not a pretty sight, the body beaten beyond recognition, the smell even worse. His stomach not happy, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones crouched down, a closer look, the foul odour growing in strength. Eyes watering, sinuses screaming, his gaze grazed over the body, searching for something, anything that would give them a clue.

Something under the body, a scrap of paper. Reaching forward with glove-covered fingers, he gave it a tentative tug, the paper moving without tearing, coming away from beneath the body still intact. Small in size, the top edge torn, it matched the sized and width of the notebook on the victim’s desk.

Jones stood up, knees cracking; he was getting old. Walked to the desk sitting beneath a large chequered window, compared the evidence. A possible match. The white paper was covered in blood, but there was something . . . He turned on the desk lamp, held the note paper over it . . . Dark ink broke through the blood staining the scrap of paper, the words easy to read, the light highlighting the text . . .

‘Gary Potter did it.’

A stroke of luck, something they needed, the day already sour.

So . . . case solved.

Just in time for lunch.

Except Barnaby would want to compare the hand writing to the victim’s. Determine if the words were an accusation or a confession, either way proof required. Another long day. The second death in two days, neither victim connected, death committed by two very different assailants. The job never boring, Jones sometimes grew tired of the violence; a cancer living in the midst of humanity, hidden within, most killers looked like the man or woman living next door. The knowledge of such an existence a heavy burden sometimes difficult to carry.

Vertigo slapped him across the face, his world tilting. Balance shifting, Jones grabbed the edge of the desk, held his breath. The feeling passed, leaving a niggling doubt at the back of his mind. He shook it off, sure that it had been too long since he’d eaten, not enough sleep the night before. Releasing the air from his lungs, he took in a deep breath . . . a smell of burnt toast . . .

“Find something, Jones?”

Concentration so strong, Jones jerked with surprise, spun on his heels, fingers of his right hand still holding onto the edge of the desk. Embarrassed, he held up the piece of paper. “Yes, sir.”

Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby stepped further into the room. A quick glance toward the body, his gaze snapping away to look at the piece of paper Jones held up toward him. Barnaby frowned, the words lowering his eyebrows, creases appearing across his forehead.

“It was under the body, sir.”

Barnaby nodded. “Written before the attack. Premonition?”

“Didn’t do him much good,” said Jones, noting the disappointed expression on Barnaby’s face, quickly adding, “It looks like it came from the notebook on the desk.”

Another nod. “Handwriting?”

Jones turned to face the desk, a quick search. “Nothing on hand to compare it to.”

Barnaby turned back toward the body, moving closer. “They certainly did a number on him.”

A thought crossed Jones’s mind, a possible plot. Deciding to voice his idea, he said, “Sir . . .”

Barnaby looked back at Jones. Raised his eyebrows, a question asked. What?

“You don’t think there might be a chance that . . . well, the victim is Gary Potter?”

A short hum of acknowledgement. “We could be getting ahead of ourselves, Jones.”

Jones shuffled his feet. “Well, Gary Potter could have come here to kill his victim--”

“Did he bring a weapon with him?”

“Gary Potter could have come here to confront his potential victim. They argued. Got into it but Potter lost . . . badly.”

“Then why the note?” said Barnaby.

“There could be a hidden message in the . . . um, message.”

Made sense to Jones.

“Such as?”

“Gary Potter brought it on himself,” said Jones, frowning, the smell of burnt toast returning. “Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?”

Jones shook his head, mind playing tricks, his stomach hungry, body in need of food. “Toast.”

“Having a stroke, Jones?”

Said in jest, but Jones wasn’t impressed. Barnaby’s humor could be very sharp, cutting in nature, taken the wrong way if you weren’t in the right mood; Jones wasn’t in the right mood. Face screwed up in lieu of a laugh, Jones said, “Is my face sagging on one side, sir?”

Ignoring his sergeant, Barnaby said, "No identification on the body then?”

“Not that Kate could find. He could be anybody.”

“Let’s assume he lives here,” said Barnaby. “What about photos? Anything that would put a name to the face. Or a face to the body.”

“Not much left of the face to indentify, sir.”

Ahh. There was that look. Jones nodded toward the doorway, held up the evidence. “I’ll just go find the SOCO’s. Give them this.”

“You do that, Jones. After they’ve photographed the evidence in its original position.”

Jones nodded and stepped away from the desk, the verbal slap down keeping his head low, his steps awkward. A second bout of vertigo, the dizziness overwhelming, the smell of toast so strong. With nothing to hold onto, his legs collapsed, his body falling toward the floor. The impact painful, back of his head bouncing off the floor, the scrap of paper fluttering against lax fingers.

Bread toasting, the odor so familiar . . .

Face turning pale, Barnaby rushed to Jones’s side. Kneeling beside his sergeant, he placed his palm against Jones’s forehead. “Jones?”

His limbs heavy, a strong sensation, it felt as though something was pulling him across the floor; body immobile, not going anywhere, it created a nauseating feeling. Jones swallowed down the bile climbing his throat.

A shift in direction, his body pulled inward, something turning him inside out. In the center of his being, a dull ache began, turning sharp. Jones blinked, looked up at his boss. There was a look of fear on Barnaby’s face. The man probably thought Jones was actually having a stroke.

The smell of fresh toast so strong . . .

Barnaby lost his balance, hand falling away from Jones’s brow, arse hitting the floor. Arms failing, Barnaby began a search for his equilibrium. Couldn’t find it. He fell to the side, left shoulder against the floor.

His eyes wide with surprise, Jones could do nothing when Barnaby collapsed beside him. Darkness tugged at his vision, Jones fighting against it with everything he had. There must be something in the room, an odorless gas . . . a possible cause of death . . . only in the movies.

Eyelids too heavy to keep open, Jones closed his eyes . . .


. . . blinked them open.

Jones found himself in a different environment, an unfamiliar room. Sat in a chair in front of a long conference table, he was unsure of what had just happened. His gaze searched the room, finding the two men sitting on the other side of the table. They stared back at him, waited a moment and then spoke.

“Clyde Humphrey,” said the shorter of the two, hair shaved close to his skull, his face pale, his blue eyes holding a hint of surprise. He held a piece of toast in his right hand.

“Agnes Otis,” said the other man with a faint Scottish accent. Dark eyes, hair blond, his ears too large, his lips too thin, Agnes embraced a red toaster against his thick chest, a fresh slice of bread clutched within the toaster’s grasp. Taped to the side of the toaster . . . it looked like a fifteen-volt battery.

Clyde took a bite out of his toast, looked down. Frowned as he brushed the crumbs from his shirt . . .

Certain he had hit is head sometime in the last few seconds . . . no doubt when he fell . . . brain now damaged beyond repair. Fractured his skull. A possible subdural haematoma. Could be, he had died, soul thrown into another world to live in eternal confusion. Bloody typical.

Next to Jones, the air seemed to move. He blinked, the movement slow. John Barnaby now sat next to him, his face pale, eyes wide with surprise. Barnaby’s skin looked clammy, in shock no doubt. Sure, he looked the same, Jones looked away, back toward the two men across the table.

“Agnes,” said Clyde, nodding toward the toaster.

“I’m a Michelin star chef for Christ sake,” said Agnes, fingers pressing the switch down, the bread disappearing into the toaster.

Okay, he’d gone barmy, lost his mind. Think! A dream. A more believable solution, no other probable cause or reason except, asleep or unconscious, he didn’t have the imagination to create something this complicated. Maybe it wasn’t his dream.

Compelled to ask, Jones turned his head, looked at his boss and said, “Is this a dream, sir?”

“If it is,” said Barnaby, “it’s your dream.”

“Why does it have to be mine?”

“Because, Jones, if it were my dream you wouldn’t be here.”

“Good point.”

It felt very surreal . . .

A small pop, the lightly toasted bread jumping up before coming to a rest back in the toaster. Stuffing the remainder of the toast he had into his mouth, Clyde reached to the side, removed the toast from the toaster, took a small bite, smiling in appreciation.

“A well deserved Michelin star.”

“I should be cooking a four course meal, Clyde, not pieces of toast.”

“All for the common good, Agnes.”

“Common good my sodding arse.”

“Language, Agnes, we have guests.”

Agnes muttered something almost unrecognisable. Twisting his upper body, Agnes leaned over, disappearing from Jones’s sight. Like the toast, he popped back up, a fresh slice of bread in his hand. Resting the bread in the toaster, he looked back at Jones and smiled, the expression insincere.

Completely off his rocker . . .

Jones looked down. His hands blue, he still wore the gloves he’d put on before he entered the crime scene. He pulled the gloves from his fingers, dropping them onto the table. Palms down, he could feel the wood beneath his touch. It felt real, cool against his heated flesh. A moment of insanity, Jones considered banging his head against the table, sure to wake up as a result, created headache worth it. If he didn’t wake up . . . knowing he would only embarrass himself, Jones changed his mind, pinching the skin between thumb and forefinger instead. Nothing happened, still asleep or unconscious, still dreaming.

Clyde took another bite of toast. Chewed. Swallowed. Frowned at the two detectives. “Inspector Barnaby, Sergeant Jones? Are you both all right? It’s just that you both look a little pale. I’m sure you’re not use to this sort of thing. First time for everything and all that. Not the first time for us though, is it, Agnes?”

“Michelin star chef--”

“In fact,” said Clyde, “I think we’re becoming pretty proficient at it. Don’t you think, Agnes?”

Agnes grimaced, shifted in his seat, his body language showing his embarrassment . . . was that a touch of guilt . . . “The first time we tried, we blew them up, in this world and theirs. Very messy. Had to bring in the cleaners.”

Clyde smiled, the effort difficult. “We apologised.”

“Hard to apologise to dead people, Clyde.”

“Still, an apology is an apology.”

Barnaby leaned forward, forearms resting on the table. Jones watched in fascination as the expression of false stupidity grew and spread across Barnaby’s features. Clyde took another bite of toast. Voice confident, Barnaby said, “Pretty proficient at what?”

Not the question Jones had expected but the answer would explain a lot. He mirrored Barnaby’s position, waited for an explanation, not liking or believing what came next.

“Matter transference. We pulled you from your world into ours.”

He was in a script for Doctor Who.


Snapping his head to the side, Jones gave Barnaby a concerned look. His boss was buying into this crap, believing what this man was telling them. They were all barmy. He stood up, intent on walking away, out of the room and back into the real world. If there was a real world beyond the closed door . . . still asleep or unconscious.

“To solve a murder of course,” said Clyde.

Another bite of toast.

“Is one of us dreaming?” said Barnaby.

Jones reached the door, pulled it open and stepped outside. This was not Midsomer. It looked like Midsomer but something wasn’t quite right . . . the light too harsh, the colors too dark. He looked back into the room, the three men watching him. Expression of stupidity gone, Barnaby now wore an expression that screamed ‘convinced’.

Bloody hell. This wasn’t a dream. It was a bloody nightmare.

Clyde turned back to face Barnaby. “No. Neither of you are dreaming.” A bite of toast. Fingers brushing the crumbs from his shirt.

Jones stayed in the doorway.

“This is real?” said Barnaby, gaze settling back on the two men on the other side of the table.


“Prove it.”

That was more like it. Jones rushed back to the table. Sat down, pulling his chair closer to the table.

Clyde spread his arms. “You’re here aren’t you?”

Agnes leaned forward, over the edge of the table. “Be grateful you didn’t explode. We could be feeding your remains to the local cows.”

Barnaby nodded, a slight upward tilt of his head. Jones could read Barnaby’s body language, Barnaby not entirely convinced that this was real.

“Do you really need convincing?” said Clyde. “Why can’t you just go with the flow? Pretend you’re dreaming. Think of it this way, your subconscious is trying to cope with something in your dream that’s happening in your life. Isn’t that what dreams are for? Aren’t they a way of coping with trauma or stressful events.”

Jones frowned. “What kind of stressful event or trauma would cause this kind of dream?”

“An inability to solve a murder?” said Agnes, staring at Jones.

Jones tried to look offended, found he couldn’t.

“You’re saying we’re here to solve a murder?” said Barnaby.

“Yes!” said Clyde, slapping his hand down on the table.

Jones jumped in surprise.

“Not difficult to deduce,” said Agnes. “Clyde told you that earlier.”

“Why don’t you solve your own murder?”

Clyde looked at Agnes. Agnes looked at Clyde. Clyde took a bite of toast, nodded toward the toaster. Agnes swore then went through the process of toasting the slice of bread.

“We don’t know how to solve a murder.”

“Why not?” said Barnaby.

The toast popped. Shrugging, Clyde removed the toast, took a bite. Chewed and swallowed. “We’ve never had one before.”

Jones looked at Barnaby. “I’m not this imaginative, sir. This has to be your dream.”

“With you in it, Jones, it’s more like a nightmare.”

“Thank you for that, sir.”

“So,” said Barnaby, “all we have to do is solve the murder and we can go back home?”

“As long as we don’t blow you up sending you back,” said Clyde.

Barnaby leaned back in his chair, a look of contemplation on his features.

“You’re not buying this are you, sir?”

“Why not. Beats being bored while sleeping.”

“So we do like he said, just play along until whoever is dreaming wakes up?”

“It might fun.”

“I get enough fun when I’m awake.”

“No you don’t, Jones.”

“Again, thank you for that, sir.”

Another bite of toast. Another slice of bread placed into the toaster.

Curiosity getting the better of him, Jones asked, “What’s with all the toast.”

“I’m glad you asked,” said Clyde.

Agnes said, “I’m not.”

“The toast is a working conductor for transitory travel and stability,” said Clyde. “And to keep you here, I have to keep eating it.”

“Which is why I’m here,” said Agnes. “A chef with a Michelin star making toast. Anyone can make toast.”

“You know it has to be made by a chef with a Michelin star,” said Clyde.

“No, I don’t.”

“You should try it with butter. It tastes better,” said Jones.

Agnes, expression stoic, said, “That’s why the last lot blew up. Who was it we tried to get, Clyde?”

“A Detective Inspector Robbie Lewis and a Detective Sergeant James Hathaway, I believe.”

“Oh,” said Jones, familiar with the Oxford detectives. A promised made that when he did wake up, he would check on the condition of Lewis and Hathaway and if they were dead, killed in an explosion . . . he won’t be happy, then again, neither would Lewis and Hathaway.

“We decided to plead plausible deniability,” said Clyde.

“Based on the fact that we didn’t know they were going to blow up,” said Agnes.

A large bite of toast, stuffed into the side of his mouth. “Thankfully we worked out the kinks.”

Nodding in acceptance – what else could he do – Jones pointed toward Clyde. “You’ve got something in your teeth.”

Clyde turned toward Agnes, spread his lips, showing his teeth.

“Crumbs,” said Agnes.

“Damn crumbs. They’re a side effect of the . . .” He waved his hand and began wiping a finger across his teeth.

Barnaby smiled, a proud expression, and said, “Conductor used for transitory travel and stability.”

“Give the man a piece of toast, Agnes!”

“I’d rather not,” said Agnes.

“How did you choose us?” said Barnaby.

“Well, we chose--”

“Lewis and Hathaway first.”

“And we told you what happened to them.” Ate some more toast. Swallowed before starting up again. “I’m psychic. I saw you in my mind. I saw what you could do and what you’re capable of doing. And with the use of the transitory travel and stability conductor--”

Jones had a headache.

“--I brought you here.”

“If you’re psychic--”

“I am.”

“--why don’t you divine who killed your murder victim.”

“Yes, Clyde,” said Agnes, turning to face the psychic, “why don’t you use your psychic powers to deduce who the killer is.”

“Because it doesn’t work that way.” A bite of toast, an angry nod toward the toaster.

“It never does,” said Jones.

“Well then,” said Barnaby, slapping his hands together, eager to get on with it. “Shall we get started?”

“I’d rather not,” said Jones.

“Let’s start with the body,” said Barnaby, standing up, pushing his chair back, an expression of excitement on his face.

“Sir,” said Jones, standing and nodding toward a corner of the room. “Can I have a word?”

“You can have more than one, Jones.”

A frustrated release of breath, Jones moved to the corner. Hands on hips, he waited for Barnaby to join him. Barnaby, always polite excused himself from their present company and made his way over to his sergeant.

Jones didn’t hesitate. “You’re actually going to go along with this?”

“You’d rather sit here and wait.”

“Dreams don’t last, sir. This will be over soon enough. We don’t need to go wandering off to solve a crime in a world where crime doesn’t exist--”

“We have crime,” said Clyde, moving a little too close to Jones and Barnaby’s position. “It’s a murder we’ve never had. Fascinating.”

“Private conversation, Clyde,” said Agnes.

“Of course, Agnes” said Clyde, his position unchanged.

Jones turned his back to the room. “It’s insanity, sir.”

“It’s imagination, Jones--”


“I have a degree in psychology, Jones. I know what I’m talking about. You’re having a dream--”

“This can’t be my dream.”

Barnaby sighed. “Just play along until one of us wakes up. It might be fun. Enjoy it. And take that as an order.”

Shoulders sagging, Jones said, “Sir.”

“Right then,” said Barnaby, showing Jones the way to the door. “After you . . . Toto.”


Meredith Bernstein lay in an elaborate coffin, silver handles on its side, with a soft, white, fluffy center. She wore a short sleeved, black buttoned dress, her short hair combed, her makeup heavy, her eyebrows manicured. She looked peaceful. She looked liked she was sleeping.

Jones stood back, arms crossed, refusing to take part. Childish he knew, but this was just . . . he was at a loss for words. If this was a dream, Barnaby’s or his, it seemed to have no end. A continual plot, no deviations, no forks in the road; just one long stretch of crazy.

“This is your murder victim,” said Barnaby, upper body leaning over the edge of the coffin.

Clyde and Angus stood on the other side. Clyde wore a smile, his interest in Barnaby’s method of investigation obvious. Agnes stood beside him, not as interested, a scowl on his face, gaze cast downward, watching as another slice of bread slowly toasted. Agnes looked like a man suffering from a terminal case of job dissatisfaction. Jones couldn’t blame him, he was beginning to feel that way himself . . . inside a dream. This was hell.

“Yes,” said Clyde. “Meredith Bernstein. Such a sweet thing. Liked to feed the pigeons with bread laced with a sedative. Her roast pigeon was to die for.”

“And die she did,” said Agnes without looking up.

Barnaby stood up, turned his upper body and gave Jones a look.

Jones, a decision made, said, “This is your dream, sir.”

“Right,” said Barnaby. “I’ve always had a dislike of pigeons.”

“You’ve obviously never tasted one,” said Clyde, biting down on his toast before wiping the crumbs from his shirt. “Damn crumbs.”

“A battery operated vacuum cleaner is what you need,” said Agnes, his words laced with sarcasm.


“No,” said Agnes, offended that Clyde had taken him seriously.

“Meredith Bernstein,” said Barnaby. “What makes you think she was murdered?”

Clyde looked at Agnes.

Agnes held up his hands. “Sanitary environment. Must keep one’s hands clean at all times.”

“You’re only cooking toast--”

“I’m creating a conductor for transitory travel and stability.”

“Touché, Agnes,” said Clyde. “Touché”

Agnes smiled, nodded toward Meredith Bernstein.

Jones shook his head, a look of disbelief on his face. Completely off their rockers. He turned away, looked out the window. The light still too sharp, the colors too dark. They had driven through a country village so similar to Midsomer Worthy . . . past villagers who looked familiar but he hadn’t been able to place them. Arriving at a funeral home, they had made their way inside and now . . . Jones contemplated the coffins. They looked comfortable, a way to pass the time while Barnaby played out his fantasies . . . if only his fantasies were more . . . He frowned, a contradiction invading his thoughts. He ignored it, his world crazy enough as it was he didn’t want to consider what had just crossed his mind. Jones turned back to the three men and Meredith Bernstein . . .

Clyde reached into the coffin and tore open the top of Meredith’s dress, revealing more than Jones wanted to see. Barnaby, always the professional, saw only the fatal injury that sat in-between Meredith’s flat breasts. Curious, Jones stepped forward, right shoulder toward the coffin, took a closer look. The injury was at least two inches in length; a possible knife wound. He looked at her hands, her forearms . . . a lack of defensive wounds; a possibility she knew her killer.

“Knife?” said Barnaby.

“Yes,” said Clyde. “She was found lying in her front garden, surrounded by sleeping pigeons with a knife sticking out of her chest.”

Barnaby frowned. “You moved the body.”

“We couldn’t just leave her there.”


“Not for three days. What would her neighbour think?”

“That she’d burnt the Sunday roast,” said Jones.

Barnaby gave Jones the look, turned back to Clyde and Agnes. “Bodies give off a very bad odor once they begin to decay.”

“A dead body smells like burnt pigeon?” said Clyde.

“Sarcasm, Clyde,” said Agnes.


“Where’s the knife?” said Barnaby.

“Here,” said Clyde, leaning further into the coffin. With an apology to Meredith, he removed a long bladed knife; it had been resting in the coffin with her.

“Ahh,” said Barnaby, an expression of disappointment. “Fingerprints?”

Please, do not do a Prince joke.

“Fingerprints?” said Clyde, the knife held in his right hand, fingers gripping the wooden handle.

“No point now,” said Barnaby.

“You’d think you’d know better, sir,” said Jones, a look of satisfaction.

“It may be your dream after all, Jones.”

“If it were my dream, sir, Meredith would be more endowed.”

The toaster popped. Clyde removed the toast. Agnes replaced it with a fresh slice of bread taken from a large, brown leather bag hanging by his side. Jones could feel a rumble of hunger roll through his stomach.

Barnaby nodded in acknowledgement, turned back to Clyde. “Do you have a pathologist? Someone to examine the body. Someone who can determine cause of death.”

“Cause of death? It’s obvious isn’t it?” said Agnes. “Someone put a knife through her chest.”

“Very obvious,” said Clyde.

Another glance at Jones.

“Not me, sir.”

“What’s our next move?” said Clyde.

“The scene of the crime,” said Barnaby, walking away.

A pigeon lay in the middle of the front garden, breast sunken, its wings wilted, stomach bloated. Too much of a good thing, over indulging in the bird food Meredith had laid across her garden; grass lush and green, surrounded by flourishing rose bushes laid out in front of a small cottage. Jones could almost picture Meredith laying there instead of the bird, knife protruding from her chest . . . a terrifying sight for the person who found her body.

Jones stood with Clyde and Agnes on the driveway leading to the cottage, the smell of fresh toast in the air. He watched as Barnaby paced the garden. Nothing to find, Jones was sure.

“What’s he doing?” said Clyde.

“Looking for evidence. Blood, footprints, anything the killer may have left behind.”

“And what good will that do?”

“It could lead us to the killer.”


Jones looked at Clyde. “This is a dream. Why do you need an explanation? Just go with the flow.”

“Sarcasm,” said Clyde.

“Now you’re getting it,” said Agnes.

“I’d rather not,” said Clyde. “Sarcasm is rather insulting.”

The expression on Clyde’s face tugging at his heartstrings, Jones said, “Who found the body?”

“That would be Harry Secombe. Meredith’s one and only neighbour.”

“Harry Secombe?”

“Yes,” said Clyde. “He likes to nick a pigeon or two but his roasts aren’t as good as Meredith’s.”

“Michelin star chef--”

“And Meredith’s roasts aren’t as good as Agnes’s roasts.”

“We’ll need to talk to him?”

“He’s right here,” said Clyde.

Deep breath. “Harry Secombe.”

“Oh right. He should be home. Likes to sit on his couch and watch afternoon porn.”

“Right,” said Jones.

A passing moment. The silence awkward. Jones looked down at his feet, noticed his clothing, his shoes; dressed as he had been that day at work, before all of . . . this. Contradiction dragged through his mind, the thought lifting his head, his gaze searching for Barnaby, found him crouched down in front of a line of rose bushes with thorns big enough to take off a finger. This couldn’t be real . . .

“What was Meredith like?” said Jones.

“She was like Marilyn Monroe,” said Agnes.

Remembering the body in the coffin, Jones frowned.

Finishing his piece of toast, hand out waiting for another toasted slice of bread, Clyde said, “When she was younger. Her looks and body declined in her elderly years.”

“She was a knockout,” said Agnes, leaning toward Clyde, toast made available.

Clyde took the toast, took a bite.

“What was she like in her elderly years?” said Jones.

“Declined,” said Clyde.

He was going to hit him.

“Nicest person you would ever meet,” said Agnes, stepping in front of Clyde, pushing the psychic back. “She would do anything for anyone.”

“Did she have family? A husband? Kids?”

“No, she never married.”

“Kind of weird,” said Agnes, “considering what she looked liked.”

“Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt her?”

“No. Everyone liked her,” said Clyde, pushing forward, past Agnes. “She invited the entire village to her Sunday roasts. Best day of the week.”

Agnes swore.

“Except for Agnes’s ‘Two for One Meal Deal’ on Tuesdays.”

Jones looked at Agnes. Agnes looked back at him.

“She didn’t have any enemies?”


“No one jealous of her Sunday roast?”

Agnes frowned . . . smiled. “No.”

“Jones,” said Barnaby.

Jones pulled his gaze away from Agnes. This situation was growing beyond bizarre. Jones turned and walked away, toward Barnaby, heart sinking when he saw what Barnaby was holding in his hand . . . a small piece of notepaper. Stopping next to Barnaby, he crouched down, took a closer look at a scrap of paper, the words written in dark ink barely legible, the note suffering from three days of British weather . . .

‘Gary Potter did it.’


Gary Potter did it. Barnaby had brought that bit of titbit with him into the dream; Jones had no doubt . . . Case solved. Time to go home. When asked, Clyde and Agnes had informed them no Garry Potter lived in their village or any surrounding village. Case not solved. This dream was quickly becoming a nightmare. Jones looked away from the large flat screen television, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Harry, a tall, thin man liked his porn thick and heavy, Jones grateful the volume was on mute. If this was Barnaby’s imagination at work, Jones had had enough. He didn’t want to gain any more knowledge into the psyche of John Barnaby.

Another contradictory intrusion . . .

Jones shook his head in denial.

“She was just lying there,” said Harry. “You saw her, Clyde.”

Clyde nodded in agreement. Bit into his toast. Wiped the crumbs off his chest.

“Did you see anybody at the time?”

“I saw Meredith and I saw Clyde.”

He was in hell.

“Anyone else?”

Jones envied Barnaby’s patience.

“Who else would there be?” said Harry.

“The person who killed her.”

Oh. Harry looked at Clyde. Clyde looked at Agnes. Agnes looked at his toaster, frowning, slapped the palm of his hand against the side of the toaster, smiled when the bread popped up, perfectly toasted. Michelin star chef.

“I didn’t see anyone else.”

Barnaby sat on a large flowered lounge, next to Harry. Upper body forward, showing his interest, Barnaby said, “Do you know if she’s had any trouble? Arguments with other people? With you?”

Jones, standing by a bay window watched with disinterest as Harry’s eyes grew wide in shock.

“What did Meredith tell you?”

“Harry,” said Agnes, “Meredith didn’t tell him anything. She’s dead.”

What was wrong with these people? Brains the size of a green pea, they were dumber than the dead pigeon in Meredith’s front garden. Needing to voice his assumption, Jones stepped forward, mouth open at the ready . . . stopped when he saw the expression on Barnaby’s face. His boss was taking enjoyment from a ridiculous situation. Snapped his mouth shut and stepped back, rubbed his left hand over his face, accepting the fact that until Barnaby woke up, he had to suffer through. Didn’t mean he had to like it, or enjoy it.

“Did you have an argument with Meredith, Harry?” said Barnaby.

“No. She was so nice. Always let me nick a pigeon or two. I had a dinner party last weekend and I took more than two without asking. I didn’t think she would mind. She didn’t.”

“Where were you when she was murdered?”

“I was here, watching my porn. I heard a scream. I knew it wasn’t Hillbilly Jane who screamed so--”

“Hillbilly Jane?”

“On the telly. Anyway, I heard a scream and went outside to find out what was going on. That’s when I saw Meredith. I called Clyde.”

“Why Clyde?”

‘He’s our resident sleuth. I knew he would know what to do.” Harry looked at Clyde. “Shame about Lewis and Hathaway.”

“We apologised,” said Clyde.

Agnes snorted.

Lips thinned, Barnaby nodded. “Did you kill her, Harry?”

“No. People don’t kill here. We’ve never had such a thing before. Maybe this person came from somewhere else.”

Oh, here we go.

“From your world, maybe.”

Okay, that was it. Jones walked away, out of the living room and out of the cottage. He kept moving, stopping when he reached the road. A car drove past, a young woman at the wheel. She looked familiar, knowledge of her identification just out of his reach. Everything seemed normal, real . . .

Contradiction settling in, making itself at home, Jones realised one thing: this wasn’t Barnaby’s dream. He was in a hell that was his own, created from his own imagination and he couldn’t end it. He couldn’t snap himself awake.


Jones didn’t turn around. “Hypothetically speaking, what if this was real?”

Barnaby came up beside him, hands in his pockets, a look of concern on his face. “I thought this was my dream?”

“Then why are you telling it from my point of view? You said it yourself, sir, if this was your dream, I wouldn’t be here.”

“I didn’t mean--”

“If this is my dream, why can’t I wake up? Am I asleep? Am I unconscious or worse still, in a coma? Why all this? Why am I dreaming this load of bollocks? This place, these people. It’s insane.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Jones,” said Barnaby. “Common sense tells me that this can’t be happening but it all seems so--”


An elderly woman cycled by, a wave of her hand, a verbal greeting, a quick snap at the bell on the bike’s handle.

“Except for the plot,” said Barnaby.

“My imagination at work.”

“Even you couldn’t come up with something like this.”

“Thank you, sir.”


A search of Meredith’s home yielded nothing that would provide a motive for her death. They had found a diary, Meredith discussing her love of roast pigeon and nothing else. A boring life led, she did nothing other than sedate and cook pigeons with the occasional bit of gardening and housework. There were no friends listed in her address book. A landline only, they couldn’t do an immediate search of phone records. There were no family photos, no family photo album. For someone so well liked, she had led not only a boring life but also a lonely one.

Something wasn’t right . . . but it was only a dream, not everything reasonable, imagination taking a complicated route.

But if it was a dream, why didn’t it end? Why didn’t the killer just jump out of a dark corner, knife drawn, ready to kill. Weapon on a downward slope, Jones would snap out of the dream, breath frantic, his heart beating a painful beat.

No longer sure, he didn’t know what to do . . .

Jones slumped down onto a kitchen chair, forearms resting on the kitchen table thinking about what Barnaby had said. His words repeated . . . go with the flow until you wake up. What if he didn’t wake up? What if he remained in this hell for the rest of his life? Bad enough he’d only been here a matter of hours. If he were to be stuck here for days, weeks, he would lose his mind. If it all rested on solving this . . . case of murder, then perhaps that’s what he should do. Solve it and he might just wake up.

But how, they had nothing.

“We’ve got nothing,” said Barnaby, sitting down on the other side of the table.

Clyde and Agnes followed; both sitting down in the remaining two chairs. The smell of toast wafting through the kitchen. At least the room didn’t smell like roasted pigeon.

“What do we do next,” said Clyde.

“Wake up,” said Jones.

“You’re not going to wake up,” said Agnes. “This is real.”

“Says the Michelin star chef holding a toaster.”

“You’d be dead if it weren’t for my toast cooking abilities.”

“Right now,” said Jones, “death would be preferable.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you accepted the fact that this is real,” said Clyde.

Jones looked away.

“Ah ha, you do think this is real.”

Barnaby interrupted. “Let’s say that it is. What do we do now? We have nothing. No forensic evidence. No family we can question--”

“You want to question your--”

“Don’t say it,” said Jones.

“No motive,” said Barnaby. “Nothing that will lead us to a killer.”

“What would you normally do,” said Clyde, “in your world?”

“We would have people search the crime scene--”

“You did that.”

“--collect anything the killer may have left.”

“Blood and footprints,” said Clyde.

“Hairs, fibres, that sort of thing,” said Barnaby. “We would also have a pathologist examine the body. A forensic team would examine her clothes . . .” A light bulb went off. “Where are the clothes she was wearing when she was killed?”

“I believe Clyde used them to warm his living room,” said Agnes.

Barnaby raised an eyebrow.

“He burnt them in his living room fireplace.”

“Bit short on wood,” said Clyde.

“Hell,” said Jones.

They all looked at him. He looked back.

“Okay,” said Barnaby. “We would question the person who found the body--”

“You did that.”

“Clyde,” said Agnes. “Stop interrupting.”

Clyde filled his mouth with toast. Agnes popped another fresh slice into his battery-operated toaster.

“Still hell,” said Jones.

“We’d question her family but she has none. But we can question the people who came to her Sunday roasts. There would be a search of her home, which we did but found nothing.”

“Oh,” said Clyde, taking a bite of toast, wiping the crumbs from his shirt.

“If you stop eating that,” said Jones, “we’d go back to our own world?”

Clyde nodded.

“Then, please, stop eating it.”

“But you haven’t solved the case.”

“Meredith Bernstein killed herself out of boredom. There, I’ve solved it.”

“We have to go back to the beginning,” said Barnaby.

“Meredith or our first victim?” said Jones.

He wasn’t serious when he said it but Barnaby took his words and ran with it. “Our nameless victim. The method of death is different--”

“I wasn’t serious, sir.”

“If this is real,” said Barnaby, “then Gary Potter travelled from this world to ours.”

Jones let out a sigh of disbelief.

Clyde nodded. “Or he travelled from yours to ours and then back to yours.”

“This dream isn’t based on science fiction,” said Jones.

“We don’t have conductors to use for transitory travel and stability. That sort of thing doesn’t exist in our world.”

“You’ve gone crazy, sir.”

“Go with the flow, Jones. You’ll wake up soon enough.”

“Not if I’m in a coma.”

Barnaby turned his head. “I’m sure it’s not that serious.”

Jones snorted and shook his head.

Harry Secombe burst through the back door, stumbling to a halt in front of the kitchen table. Out of breath, he was difficult to understand. Saw the confused expressions written on the faces of the men who sat at the table, took a deep breath and tried again. “There’s been another one of those murder things!”

Part One | Part Two

Master Fan Fiction List

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