A round up of the excerpts I posted to the community can be found below the cuts...
Day Fifteen (when we last saw Linda, she was heading for the woods; now she has followed a new character from there, back to the village)
She picked out half a dozen postcards, and was paying for them and an equal number of second class stamps when, behind her, she caught a glimpse of the woman passing the window. Gathering up her change, her purse and her purchases, Linda rushed out of the post office just in time to see the tail end of the woman's skirt disappear into the grocers. At least she had an excuse for following this time: the post office had no notebooks, and no pencils.
There was a small stationery display by the main counter. Linda began flicking through the selection of children's exercise books with different-coloured covers, the shorthand notebooks, and the various pens and pencils. A now-familiar patterned skirt came into view, and she gathered up a notebook, two pens, and a propelling pencil, then turned to join the queue behind her quarry.
The woman had broad shoulders, easily filling up the man's coat that she wore. She was even taller than Linda had estimated: at least 5' 11", and – Linda had to stop herself looking for too long or taking an obvious second look – the woman had dark skin. She was dark like a Caribbean immigrant – not dark like a gypsy or like someone who had worked outside in the sun all their life – and her facial features hinted at the same heritage.
The old man at the head of their three person queue paid for his shopping and walked past them, barely giving the woman in front of Linda a glance, although he looked Linda over for longer than she felt entirely comfortable about. The woman took a step forward, placed her basket on the counter, and handed a piece of paper to the grocer.
Day Sixteen (with a warning for implied violence)
Linda slept badly that night, turning over in her mind the various fates that might have overtaken Julia. Linda knew from her years on the force that 'he should have treated her better' could cover so many misdemeanors, from restrictions on what she could wear, where she could go, who she could befriend to yelling and the occasional slap, to bruises, broken bones, or worse. Had the 'worse' gone so far as to include murder – manslaughter due to provokation, more likely – by her husband? In that case, where was Julia's body?
Linda was as convinced as she could ever be from just a portrait that Julia had had a lover. Had he finally persuaded her to leave her lover: had she genuinely 'run away' as Kate seemed to believe? Or had Julia turned him down to go back to her husband, and in that case, had her lover killed her? Again, where was Julia's body?
Every conceivable scenario, no matter how unlikely, played over in Linda's mind, until at last, exhausted by reliving so many old cases – with Julia in the role of victim this time – she fell asleep. Her dreams were plagued by ever more unlikely scenarios of what might have happened to Julia, most inspired by films she had watched at the cinema or news reports she had seen on the television.
Excerpt from Chapter Four (Linda is on an early morning nature walk):
A shadow distracted her from her studies, and she looked up. Brigit was walking towards her. Well-worn brown hiking boots showed below her long skirt – a different skirt, but again with a floral pattern – and over it she wore the same coat, although the scarf covering her hair – tied country-style – was not the one she had worn before.
Linda swallowed her surprise, and stammered out a greeting.
Brigit made no reply, but looked Linda up and down as if appraising a work of art or a thoroughbred horse, before sweeping regally on her way.
Linda stopped, turned, and stared after Brigit. Who was she? Why did everyone – except possibly the village children – find her presence, her appearance, and her behaviour so unremarkable? Brigit had been here for ten years – since around the time of Julia's disappearance – what could possibly be the connection?
Excerpt from Chapter Five:
The library in Bakewell possessed an eclectic collection. In addition to popular and less well known literature, there was a substantial reference section with a wide variety of local history books, but only a limited range on art history. 'Local history' encompassed biographies of well-known and obscure Derbyshire residents living and long-since deceased, studies of the geography and man-made landmarks of the area, and multiple tomes on legends and old wives tales. Although the early history of the Peverils and their estates were covered in exacting detail by a variety of authors, more recent holders of the title Duke of Derbyshire were written about only by family members. Even then the most recent volumes stopped at around 1950.
As in the Long Gallery, there appeared to be no pictures of either the sixteenth or the seventeenth Duke, other than as part of family groups, which had been taken when the latter had been at latest in his early twenties. Careful questioning of the head librarian led Linda to a folder of press cuttings. Some covered more recent events than the books: there was the marriage of Hugh to Julia, although the photographs were too grainy to distinguish any individuals other than the bride and groom. Then came the death announcements, obituaries, and funeral details for the fifteenth and sixteenth Duke: victims of the same accident, although the latter died in hospital while his father died before reaching it. Finally – at last! Linda thought – the last two pages contained descriptions of the seventeenth Duke, Edward, presiding over local events: village fêtes, well dressings and blessings, Pony Club gymkhanas. To her disappointment, the press photographer always seemed to be focussing on the surroundings or on the winner of an award, rather than on the Duke.
Walking down the length of the Long Gallery one last time on Saturday afternoon, Linda paused to watch out of the window as a tall, dark haired man lifted boxes from a four wheeled hand cart, and carried them into the gate house. Somehow she had formed the impression of Edward as some kind of middle-aged diletante: a collector of classic cars and works of art, who lived off his share dividends and property investments, only putting in an appearance at public events when he absolutely couldn't avoid the responsibility.
If the man outside was Edward, then perhaps she had been wrong about him. Then again, maybe Edward was lazing around in his mother's new home, and had paid someone from the village to do the hard work for him. That seemed a more likely explanation as far as Linda was concerned.
She returned to the painting of the town house, and studied it closely. In the bottom right hand corner, below the artist's signature were some faint pencil marks. Linda moved until she blocked none of the light falling on that portion of the picture. Squinting, she made out a partial address, '13 Penrith Gardens'.
Day Nineteen (Linda is in the pub)
"Be right back." Craig put down the glass he had been about to fill, and hurried over to the side door.
Linda hitched her stool around, hoping to see who Craig was talking to, as the landlord stepped forward to serve Craig's erstwhile customer. She didn't catch what Craig said to the man, and she still couldn't see more than the edge of his shadow, but she heard his reply.
"Doesn't matter. I've got to go back for now. We'll talk next time."
"If I – " Craig's next words were obscured by other conversations around Linda.
"You know where you can leave a message for me."
"Right you are." Craig closed the door, and returned to the bar.
When Linda set off back to Upper Pemberley a few minutes later, the car park had started to fill up, but the red sports car had gone.
At the newsagent's – the only shop open in the village that morning – she bought copies of Country Life, Homes and Gardens and The Lady. The fourth periodical on her mental list, The Tatler, seemed to be absent, although she could probably track down a copy in Bakewell the next day, if it seemed necessary once she had read the others. Pausing at the counter, she picked up one each of the two local newspapers on display, although only one merited the name. The other seemed mostly given over to personal ads, properties for sale or to let, and business listings, but there were local interest pieces on the front and centre pages.
With her morning and early afternoon now to be fully occupied with reading, Linda paid for her purchases and went back to her room. Even if she learned nothing new relating to her investigation, she would have more topics of conversation available to her for afternoon tea with Kate.
Excerpt One (in which we see the potential uses of Linda's reading materials):
Promptly at three o'clock, Linda presented herself on the doorstep of the gatehouse. Her morning's reading had informed her that Kate had recently celebrated her birthday with a trip to London, where she and Edward had shopped, taken in a show, and dined at the Savoy, where Kate had also spent two nights. It seemed Edward was considered young enough to still count as an 'eligible bachelor', albeit a slightly reclusive and camera-phobic one, who had recently sold a painting from his collection for a record price at one auction and was rumoured to be the anonymous purchaser of a 1932 Lagonda at another auction.
The only other mentions of Kate had been in the local press, where she was mentioned judging flower arrangement and cake competitions, giving talks to the Women's Institutes of several villages and presiding over the opening of a new ward at a cottage hospital. Edward was mentioned in those papers too, since he was expected to be bringing at least one of his cars to exhibit at Bakewell Show and it was hoped he would put in an appearance as well at some of the smaller agricultural shows that were taking place earlier in the summer.
Excerpt Two (which has a big chunk of exposition about that other house, which I'd appreciate feedback on):
"So Edward commissioned the painting after the house had been sold?"
"I'm not sure. After the row with George, Edward disappeared for almost three years – abroad most likely – he missed Hugh and Julia's wedding, we hardly had as much as a postcard from him, and then one day he just reappeared. He stayed long enough to apologise to us all and give us details of where we might contact him in London, and then he was off again." Kate poured more tea. "I think Julia wrote to him regularly, and he'd telephone me at least once a week – usually when he could be sure George and Hugh were out of the house – but it wasn't until after George died that he started coming back here with any regularity." Kate took a sip of tea, and grimaced. "I should make fresh."
"Let me help you." Linda didn't want to lose the flow of the conversation.
"That would be most kind of you." Kate stood up. "Now what was it that you do? Not art history – you said that's just a hobby."
"I... I work for the council." That was nondescript enough not to provoke too many questions, or to give Kate the impression she was being interrogated.
"Secretarial, or one of those very modern high-flying types?"
"Oh, nothing important." Linda stood up, and followed Kate into the kitchen. "I'm sure they haven't even noticed I'm gone."
Excerpt Three (because I'm feeling generous):
They didn't talk about the subject again, nor about the recent history of the Peveril family. Instead they went over Linda's notes on the older paintings, and Kate expanded on the guide book entries for the rooms Linda had enthused over previously. They discussed Kate's future plans for the house: how Edward could be persuaded to show off some of his car collection; whether serving refreshments in the chapel would adversely affect custom at either Bessie Bamford's tea rooms or the Derbyshire Arms; the best location for a souvenir shop to be situated, and what should be sold in it.
As Linda got up to leave – by which time it was after six and Mrs Ollerenshaw would be almost ready to serve dinner – she tried one last line of questioning.
The artist, Nicky S, who painted Julia's portrait," she said. "I don't suppose you know his full name?"
"I think it was Nicholas Savage," Kate said as they walked towards the front door.
"Is he still painting? I'd like to view some of his other works."
"I'm not sure that he is." Kate opened the door. "At least not under that name. You see, he was the man that Julia ran off with."
Hopefully I'll get up to the 20,000 word mark by the end of the month.