A fat drop of wet and sticky sweat ran from the man’s brow, stinging his eyes. The discomfort caused him to blink rapidly, rubbing his eye with shaking fingers. His other hand gripped at the steering wheel, attempting to keep the car straight on a dark, narrow road. He hated country lanes. It was much easier to drive, when under the influence of alcohol, in the bright city streets; one could see clearer.

Now and then, his vision blurred. He screwed his eyes up to better focus on the dark road he was driving along. Of course, he shouldn’t be driving in his condition but he had no choice; they might be following him!

He kept glancing in his rear-view mirror to check there was no one behind him. If they caught him, he was a dead man! These people had no scruples about using violence. The image of a burly guy hammering on his door demanding money was burned into his mind. After this had happened at his home in the morning, it caused him to be nervous.

Suddenly, the car bounced, spinning out of control. The vehicle veered off towards a tall hedgerow. Tires screeched, and the smell of burning rubber assailed his nostrils as he hit the brakes, attempting to stop the moving ton of metal. In what seemed like forever, but was only a matter of seconds, the car finally came to a sudden stop. It jolted his body hard against the seatbelt that tightened around his chest.

Sitting stock still, the man stared ahead with a blank expression. He tried to get his mind to focus on what had happened. As his brain leaked the information the reality hit him and he felt sick. Did he hit something? He couldn't see anything staggering around. It must have an animal or, God forbid, a person!

Undoing his seatbelt at speed, he clambered out of the car. The chill of the night air hit him, cold and clammy with a layer of mist swirling around him. He looked in the direction that he’d come from, again making sure he was still alone.

Swivelling back around to look to the front, he spotted a dark crumpled shape in the middle of the road. His stomach lurched with the acidity of bile. What little food was in there soon projected out of his mouth, splashing onto the ground. With a stinging throat, he coughed, wiping the back of his hand over his lips.

Staggering towards the shape in the road, his balance was off and he was unable to walk in a straight line. His dizziness must be from the crash, and not from the vast amount of alcohol he’d put in his bloodstream earlier that evening. The closer he got to the shape, the heavier the rock felt in the pit of his stomach. Each movement felt like a step closer to his impending doom.

Why was there no movement? Shouldn't there be some sign of life by now? His anxiety increased; there was nothing. The huddled shape lay there - motionless.

Arriving at the alien lump, he looked down at it. A cold, clammy sweat tingled at the back of his neck. His heartbeat thumped so hard in his chest, that he wondered if he might have a heart attack. Now, he knew what he had hit. His worst fears were confirmed. It wasn’t an animal - it was a man; he’d run someone over with his car!

His first reaction was to scream out in disbelief. “What! How! This can’t be happening!”

Soon, he found himself kneeling on the ground, a pool of blood spreading out from the man’s head. Quick! He had to act or the man might die.

“It’s okay, I’m… I’m going to go get help, but…”

But he knew he was lying. He had no intention of getting help. No way did he want anyone to know what he’d done.

What had he done anyway? What was going on? He felt so confused! Should he drive off before the man came around? Surely, in this darkness, the guy could never recognise his car.

Leaning closer towards the prone body, he checked for a breath, but there was nothing. Oh, jeez… the guy's dead!

As his brain dealt with the situation, he could see that the guy must have been a jogger by his attire. Why would anyone be out jogging on a dark, country lane in the fog? Serves him right! It was his own fault. He'd made himself a target for some innocent car driver. No one could blame me for running the idiot down, could they?

Once again, the man panicked and looked at the road behind him… making sure they hadn’t caught up with him yet. That’s when an idea formed inside his drunken head. He knew exactly what he was going to do.

Using all his strength, which wasn’t very much given his intoxicated state, he dragged the body to his car. A trail of blood was left behind in his wake. Dropping the dead weight onto the ground again, he opened the boot of his car. Once again, he struggled to pick up the body and allowed it to slump into the depth of the car boot.

Slamming the boot door shut, he heaved a great sigh of relief. Now for the next part of his plan. It might have been unfortunate for the dead guy, but it would work out perfectly for him. A sinister solution to all his problems.

Chapter 1

Maggie's mind enjoyed a sleepy dream about her and Jack on a luxury yacht, surrounded by a warm, deep blue ocean. They both drank a delicious cold pale ale and he was about to kiss her.

Things were soon over when a loud incessant noise broke into the idyllic world of dreams. One eye popped open, and a wet tongue licked at her sleepy face. It was her dog, Cooper, waking her up because her phone was ringing.

“What?” she called out with a croak in her voice.

Reaching out with her arm, she found the bedside cabinet to pick up her phone and answer it groggily, “Hello...”

Someone at the other end was breathing hard and heavy. What a time to get a weird phone call, disturbing her wonderful dream.

“Maggie!” a male voice called out. “It’s me, Peter.” He paused. “Listen, I’m on my way to see you.”

“Oh, hi, Peter.” Maggie attempted to sound awake. “I didn’t realise you were due here.”

“I’m not but I’ve got some troubles I need to speak with you about,” he replied.

Maggie sat up in bed. “Are you okay, Peter? I don’t like the sound of what you’re saying.”

“I’ve made some stupid decisions, is all. I’ll speak to you soon. I’ll be with you later today,” and with that promise, he cut off the call.

“Oh dear, Mr Cooper,” Maggie said, absentmindedly stroking her dog’s ears as she often did. “It looks like Peter’s in need of a friend. It’ll be nice to see him though. We haven’t seen him in ages.”

Stretching out her arms, she decided she might as well get up and shower, even if it was only five in the morning. What on earth was Peter doing up so early anyway?

Not giving it another thought, Maggie staggered over to the bathroom. She switched on the shower and went to the loo. Half an hour later she came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her long blonde hair. It wasn't long before she collapsed onto the bed again, her body wrapped in a thick bedrobe.

“Phew, I need coffee. Early hours are meant to be slept through unless I’m on an early shift, which I’m not!” she mumbled to herself.

After breakfast, and most importantly after coffee, Maggie set off for work in her blue Beetle car. She’d preferred to have walked with Cooper and enjoy the early morning mist that was now lifting. It looked like it might be a nice, warm day again. But she was due to have dinner at her parents’ house, so the car was needed.

“Come on, boy, it's time we went to work,” she called out. Cooper ran out to follow her and she locked the front door to her cosy cottage.

Maggie ended up spending the morning with her accountant. By the end of the session, she felt pleased with this year’s profits. The brewery was doing well.

At lunchtime she went through to the bar to help out over the busy period. The bar alone brought in a healthy income, so Maggie felt it was only fair that she helped out in all departments.

As the customers finished their lunch breaks, they meandered back to their places of work. Maggie chatted with Aria, a neighbour, and good friend. Maggie had helped Aria through a life-changing event, and they'd become close afterwards.

Aria now lived with her dog, Bugsy, over the road to the brewery. The dog, and the house, once belonged to her father before he passed away. For a while, after he died, Aria had worked for Maggie until she got back on her feet. Now, she ran a prosperous business of her own. She was a weaver, making beautiful rugs and other soft furnishings from her home.

“Those flats at the back of the brewery look quite upmarket, don’t they?” Aria pointed out.

“It used to be all wasteland back there," Maggie replied. "The new residential look is a much better image for the brewery.”

“Hey, when's your next launch party for the latest famous Maggie Hopps ale creation?” Aria asked.

“Ahh… It’s a Saison, which is more like a Belgium beer. It’s also like a farmhouse ale, so I suppose it depends on which way we decide to go with the PR.”

“I always thought Belgium beers were like… erm… blonde, or is 'light' a better phrase?” Aria asked. She’d learned something about brewing beers from working in the brewery for a few months.

“Blonde is the term they use for their lighter ales, but they do a darker one too, that’s called Brune,” Maggie explained. "This one will be bouncy and bubbly, effervescent as we call it in the trade. It’ll have notes of ginger and fruit. I’m calling it ‘Solstice Saison’ because its launch coincides with the summer solstice at the end of June.”

“Oh, wow, it sounds like an amazing idea. I can’t wait to try it,” Aria said with genuine enthusiasm.

She liked Maggie, a lot, after she’d helped her get through a terrible tragedy in her life. If anything, Maggie had saved her life, but that was another story.

“I hope I get an invitation. I could offer a free bottle with every item my customers buy, so that makes me a good business contact.”

“You know that you’re very welcome without being a business contact,” Maggie said. “It'll be a very summery brew, so I’d offer it with those bright shoulder bags that you’re making for the summer months. They’ll complement each other well.”

As Aria nodded in agreement, an older man approached the bar stool that she was sitting on. He looked at Maggie and spoke. “Is it okay to bring my dog into the bar?” he asked, a hopeful grin on his friendly face.

“Sure, no problem.” Maggie smiled back, liking the newcomer straight away. Not only did he have a dog for Cooper to meet, but he also had a warmth in his smile. “I’m Maggie Hopps, and this is my good friend Aria.”

He put out his hand to them both. “Keith Stone," he replied. "I’ve moved into the new flats at the back of your fine establishment,” he added, introducing himself as he took a straw trilby from his head of grey hair. “It’s warm out there. The last thing I wanted was a sunstroke,” he said, placing it on the bar.

Cooper and Bugsy were alerted from their lazy dozes. Soon, all three tails were wagging and the dogs were busy sniffing one another, as dogs were known to do.

“This one here is Archie,” Keith said, looking down at his rather large dog. “He’s my close companion, now that I’m retired from city life.”

Aria leaned down to pat Archie on the head, saying, “Mine’s the little one, Bugsy.”

“Mine’s the daft one.” Maggie smiled. “He's named Mr Cooper, but I’m the only one who uses the ‘Mr’ part, no one else can be bothered.”

“He’s a fine-looking lad,” Keith said, looking Cooper over. “A cross between a beagle and a Lab, I’d say at a guess. And the little one’s a Jack Russell, isn’t he?”

“You know your dogs.” Aria nodded, confirming he was correct.

“Well, Cooper’s floppy ears give him away. The light brown colouring is more of a lab,” Keith explained his theory.

“You’re most welcome to bring Archie to visit the bar whenever you want,” Maggie welcomed the old man.

Aria was busy attempting to stroke all three at once, so as not to leave any out of the fuss. Bugsy had been her saving grace after her bad experience and now she adored dogs.

“It’s a nice place you got yourself here, Maggie. Do you run it by yourself?” he asked, which Maggie thought was an odd question. Then again, her middle name was “curiosity,” as she always wanted to know about everything.

“Well, besides a great team of staff, I also have a silent business partner. As it happens, he should be here later today,” she told him. “He’s in a semi-famous band and will be coming down from the big city. Anyway, what’s your poison, Keith? We only sell what we brew here though.”

“Oh, that’ll do nicely. I’m a great fan of good ale. I’ll work my way through them all until I find my favourite. Let’s start with a pale ale, shall we?”

“How about a bottle of Citrus Zap? It’s a refreshing summer drink and a bestseller,” Maggie offered.

“That’ll do nicely, thank ya very much.” He grinned. As he did so, his wizened face creased a little more with laugh lines around his eyes and mouth.

Maggie opened up a bottle for him, guessing he was in his seventies, around her grandparents’ age, if she had any.

“If you’re around this evening, we might even have live music. Well, that's provided Peter ever turns up,” Maggie informed him. “Would you believe he rang me around five this morning to say he was on his way, and he still hasn’t got here?”

“Where’s he coming from?” Keith asked, pouring his pale ale into a goblet-shaped glass.

“London,” Maggie replied.

“Ah, a man after my own heart. That’s my hometown too. I’m from Hackney, myself,” he said, taking a sip from his glass.

“He’s coming from Camden,” Maggie said. “I used to live in London too. I went to UCL and lived in Kentish town, in Camden too. That’s where me and Peter met.”

“Now then, I like a bit of live music,” Keith said with an impish look in his eyes. “I love to blast out on the karaoke. I’m told I have the voice of Frank Sinatra,” he chuckled.

“Wow! That’s something I haven’t thought of doing.” Maggie smiled back at him.

“Oh, Maggie, it’d be great to have a karaoke night,” Aria joined in.

“Well, well, Keith, looks like you’ve caused quite a stir.” Maggie smiled. “I’m seriously thinking about this now.”

“Put me at the top of the list, you won’t be disappointed,” Keith said. “Now then, I'm toddling over to that cosy booth over by the window. Might even make it my regular seat. Is it okay with you if Archie gets up on the seat?”

“Absolutely,” Maggie agreed. “All the seats are faux leather anyway. As I said, dogs are most welcome here, we get a lot of tourists and their dogs.”

“I knew I was going to like country life,” Archie said, walking over to the double booth. “I’ll want you to be telling me when you have quieter times, so me and Archie can come to have a beer with no rowdy young’uns around.”

“Time for me to get going,” Aria said, as the old man left them. “I’ve a big order on, so I’d best get back to my spindle.”

“Me too,” Maggie told her. “I’m due at my parents’ house soon. Goodness knows what’s happened to Peter. He should have been here hours ago.”

Aria waved her goodbyes, including calling over to the newcomer. Maggie left a message with one of the bar staff, telling them to ask Peter to call her when he arrived.

Passing through the brewery at the back of the building to get to the car park, she shouted out her farewells over the noisy radio. She waved over to the staff as they were busy brewing her beers. It was a hive of activity that filled her with a certain satisfaction. All was well with the world.

Turning the key in the engine, she was soon on her way to Cooper’s favourite garden of all time. At the back of her parents’ garden was a small private woodland, a place for a dog to sniff around for at least an hour.

Chapter 2

“Morning everyone,” Maggie called over to her chattering staff.

The staff of Bunker Hops had gathered in the closed bar for a team meeting.

The chatter stopped and Maggie picked up a few individual voices wishing her a good morning in return. Smiling, she took in the friendly faces all looking her way, waiting for her to begin the meeting.

“Thanks for making the effort to attend this morning. Particularly those of you who don’t need to be here so early,” she began. “Anyone know where Tim is?” Maggie asked, noting one of her part-time bar staff was absent.

“He’s most likely sleeping off a hangover,” a voice chirped.

It was soon followed by light laughter around the room and lots of other humorous comments relating to Tim’s social life.

“All right, I take it back,” Maggie said, waving her arms in the air to quiet down the rude digs at Tim in his absence. “I’m best not knowing what people get up to in their own time,” she smiled, trying to ignore the fact that one of her bar staff sounded a bit like a party animal.

“First of all, I want to take this opportunity to say thanks to every single one of you.” Maggie paused to let the praise sink in. “Honestly, I mean it. I have a great bunch of people helping me to keep this place running. I couldn’t do it without you lot, each one of you doing your bit.”

Applause broke out, along with whooping and cheering. The staff members enjoyed the compliment from their boss.

“Okay, let’s get on with the serious stuff,” Maggie called out, once she’d given them time to enjoy the flattery. “Seriously, we began as a team of five, and now we're fifteen. Some of us are here all the time. Others are part-time, but it’s what keeps this place ticking over. Anyway, enough of the adulation. Let's get on to why we’re gathered here today.”

“Oh no! It sounds like we’re in a church with a statement like that, Maggie,” her head brewer, Charlie, called out.

“Enough of the jokes.” Maggie smiled. “You know what I mean. Anyway, I see you’ve all tucked into the breakfast pastries and left me the boring one,” she added, looking at the platter in the middle of the table.

“At least we saved you one,” a voice chirped.

“Yeah, right, and it looks like someone’s had a bite out of it too. Think I’ll pass on that one,” she said as another ripple of laughter echoed around the table.

“So, while you all get fat on pastries, we slimmer folk would like to talk about party time!”

Raucous cheers emitted from the team members.


“Woo – whoop!”

“Bring it on!”

“Yep! I’m talking about the next launch party for the summer solstice event. That's when we'll introduce our latest brew to the world, the Solstice Saison. Can we have volunteers to walk around with trays of finger food? And, if we run the bar in shifts of a couple of hours each, we'll all get to join in the fun.”

“I don’t serve beer, I make it,” Charlie called out. “But, hey, I’m never one to shirk my responsibilities, especially when free booze and food is on offer.”

Again, the other staff members cheered loudly.

“Hear that folks? Even our chief brewer's up for it!” Maggie called out.

The whole room was awash with excitement. Everyone always enjoyed the launch parties. That's why Maggie never had trouble getting them all to do an hour or so on duty.

“At the end of June, we’ll be…” Maggie was cut-off mid-sentence as the bar door opened.

Dave, the bar manager, stood up to go and inform the customer that the bar wasn't open yet, but it was Tim who walked in.

“Whoa!” Dave called out, staring at his colleague in disbelief. “What the hell happened to you, mate?”

Other staff members stood up to go and talk to Tim, with concern etched on their faces.

Maggie looked on, shocked by Tim's condition. Even from the other side of the room, she could see his face was heavily bruised with a swollen black eye. His arm was in a sling, and goodness knows what other hidden injuries he had. It was clear that Tim had been through something traumatic. He walked awkwardly too as he made his way to a chair.

“Let him through, guys,” Maggie called out, noting that he was attempting to come over to her. “Come on, Tim, come and park your bum on this chair.”

Finally, they let him through, as he sat at the tables that had been pushed together for the team meeting.

“Sorry I’m late, boss,” he said to Maggie. “I’m kinda not feeling too good right now.”

“You could have just called us, Tim,” Maggie said, surprised that he’d dragged himself into work in such a state.

“You going to tell us what’s happened?” Anna, the front of house manager, asked.

“The usual, I got smashed and fell down a ditch when I stumbled home,” Tim said. Maggie had her doubts about that explanation, and she noticed some of the other disbelieving faces in the room.

“You got broken ribs there?” Charlie asked, noting his tenderness.

“Aye, a couple, but it’ll all heal so I’ll be back in no time,” is all Tim offered.

“You need to go home, Tim,” Maggie told him. “You shouldn’t have come into work. You ought to be in bed resting.”

“I know, and I will be soon, but I didn’t want to miss you lot all getting together,” he laughed.

“All we got to offer you is a half-eaten pastry, we’re not partying yet,” Dave replied. “Go home, mate. The sooner you heal, the quicker you can get back to work. We need all hands on deck for the next launch party.”

“I agree with Dave on that one,” Maggie concurred. “Besides, you’ll scare off all our customers looking like that,” she added, attempting to lighten the mood. In reality, she didn’t want him working while he looked like such a mess.

“I need to work, boss,” he said, looking at Maggie. “No work means I can't pay the bills.”

“Maggie’s right, Tim," Dave interjected. "Customers will think we’ve got ourselves a bouncer when they see your black eyes. You can’t come back in until the bruising lightens at the very least. I don’t know how you think you can serve in a busy bar with broken ribs anyway.”

Tim turned and saluted Dave, his line manager, with two fingers. It was clear that he had expected to keep working and he now showed his displeasure that his money flow would run dry.

“Look, I’m calling this meeting to a close,” Maggie announced, noting how the mood had changed around the table. “You can discuss a plan to return with Dave, but he’s right about the bruising. I can’t have staff behind the bar who look like they’ve been in a brawl. You’ll get sick pay, so at least you have that to help you out while you heal.”

Tim stood up with an aggressive stagger.

“You know what! Stuff your job!” he called out, though not focusing his eyes on anyone in particular.

A stunned silence hit the room. Tim was known as a party guy, but he wasn’t usually so hostile. Dave and Charlie stood up at the same time. Both were ready to see him out the door if he continued with his aggressive behaviour. Tim came to his senses and marched out of the bar. He staggered a little as if he was still drunk from his previous night’s experience.

“Sorry about that Maggie,” Dave offered, feeling responsible for his team. “I’ll do what I can for him. At least we agree that we can’t have staff looking like that when they're serving customers. Besides, he must be in agony if his ribs are broken.”

“It’s not your fault, Dave,” Maggie assured him, as the others talked among themselves. “I’ll arrange another date for this meeting,” she announced. “For now, you can all go about your day. Once again, thanks for coming in early.”

Maggie headed off towards the office at the back, her thoughts focusing on concern for Tim. His injuries didn’t look like any accident, more like a good beating. She had to question whether she wanted someone like that working in her bar, but she’d not rush into any decision. She’d consult with Dave first.

For the rest of the morning, Maggie was busy doing various duties around the brewery. She spent some time in the small lab, cultivating samples with Ellie, her lab technician. Moving on, she went into the office where Susan, her accountant, was tapping away on the computer. They’d set up a second desk in the small office, so someone could sit and use a laptop on it.

Cooper had settled down underneath the second desk as Maggie opened up her laptop. She'd do some PR work with the company blog and social media sites. It was something Anna did mostly, but it would pass an hour away. At lunchtime, she was due to meet her best friend, Naomi.

“Right, I’m off,” Maggie announced to Susan an hour later. “Don’t work too hard without me,” she said.

“I’m nearly done if you want the main computer this afternoon,” Susan replied, peering through her thick eyeglasses at her boss.

“Nah, I’m done for the day. I’ll be working from home this afternoon,” Maggie replied. “See ya later, Sue.”

Chapter 3

In no time at all, Maggie had arrived at the artisan coffee shop where she often met her best friend for lunch. Naomi was already seated outside, awaiting Maggie's arrival. Cooper ran up to the table and lay down with Naomi's little dog, Mitzy, as they greeted one another with happy wagging tails.

“I've already ordered,” Naomi said, looking up at Maggie while she was still standing. “Toasties okay?” she asked, shielding the sun from her eyes with a big floppy hat.

“Perfect, I’m starving,” Maggie replied. “I had to skip breakfast thanks to a staff meeting.”

“How’d that go?” Naomi asked.

“Fine,” Maggie said, not wanting to discuss work matters right now. There was a time when she'd talk of nothing but her microbrewery and all that it entailed. These days though, she liked to enjoy her social time with no mention of anything work-related, if she could.

"Well that's not very informative, is it?" Naomi pushed. "What happened for it only to be fine?"

"I had to cut it short because one of the bar staff came into work all beaten up," Maggie gave a short answer.

"And? Tell me more," Naomi insisted.

“How’s Tony?” Maggie asked, doing everything she could to change the topic of conversation. Talking about her fiancé was Naomi’s favourite subject.

“Oh, he’s doing real good," Naomi said with a look of pride in her dark eyes. "He's opened up another sports shop, but this time in the Yorkshire area.”

“I’m so pleased for you, Naomi, having a wealthy fiancé,” Maggie said as their food arrived. They thanked the waiter and tucked into cheesy toasties. “And your mum?”

“Hmm, she’s so-so," Naomi said, using an up and down motion with her hand. "They changed her meds recently, which never goes down well. But the last lot made her feel quite ill, so once she’s on the right ones, I'm sure she’ll be much happier.”

“Is that for her diabetes?” Maggie asked, wondering if the breast cancer had returned in some way.

“Yes, though it doesn’t help that she refuses to stick to her dietary plan,” Naomi complained, rolling her eyes. “Oh, that reminds me, I bumped into Aria the other day. After what happened to her last year, she’s remarkably confident.”

“I know, but she was so brave to be the one to break up that dreadful sect," Maggie said, wiping her lips with a serviette. "After losing her father there was no way she was going to go back there. All the women who'd been forced to live there are much happier now."

"Yeah, she did the right thing." Naomi nodded in agreement.

"I had an odd call from Peter yesterday," Maggie said, moving on with the general banter.

“You mean your business partner?” Naomi asked, double-checking she'd got the right person in mind. “He's an odd guy, full stop.”

“Well, he is a musician so it’s to be expected.” Maggie smiled, aware that Naomi had never taken to Peter. “But this was an out-of-character call, especially at five in the morning. Peter's never been a morning creature in all the time I've known him. Anyway, he’s meant to be on his way to see me, but he hasn’t turned up yet.”

“Let me know when he does, so I can stay away,” Naomi said with a hint of sarcasm. “You know that I’m not that keen on him. I don't like how he's always stoned. Anyway, tell me how you and Jack are getting on these days?”

The banter went on. Naomi pushed for more information on Maggie’s romantic relationship with Jack. It was a topic that Maggie always kept close to her chest, yet something that Naomi always wanted to know more about.

Lunch eaten and most topics covered, the social chit-chat was over. It was time for the two friends to part ways. With a quick hug and words of farewell, Naomi was first to leave, not giving the story of Peter a second thought. Maggie, however, was now starting to worry about her business partner. He'd sounded like he needed to talk to her with some urgency. Yet, where was he?

After leaving Naomi, Maggie returned to the brewery to see if Peter had turned up. No such luck, no one had heard anything. She'd tried ringing his phone number several times, but he wasn’t answering that either.

Sitting in the empty office, Maggie found herself researching ingredients for a new brew. It was something she did automatically whenever she had worries on her mind. By doing something that was her passion, it took her mind away from the real problem at hand. She’d created many a new recipe whilst under pressure elsewhere. It was something she was good at, and it was how she made her living.

An hour or so soon passed by and Maggie continued to hang around the office in the hope of Peter’s arrival. She’d left the office door open for Cooper to wander around as he liked to do. The clanking of metal rang out from the brewing equipment, as her staff went about their jobs. Music played out on the radio and voices chattered in the background.

Maggie was fed up with sitting around, so she got up to stretch her legs. Leaving the office, she went to stroll around the brewery. It gave her an opportunity to check that everything was okay before she left for the day.

The brewery now brewed beers and ales every day of the week. Most of the time they were brewing the standard bestsellers. Occasionally, she’d give them a new recipe for a launch party. Every new recipe stayed on the product list. They were the seasonal brews, only made in smaller batches. In the three years they’d been in production, they now had ten popular and seasonal recipes to their brand. Not bad for a microbrewery.

Maggie whistled for Cooper; it was time to leave. She found her dog with Charlie, the head brewer, and stopped to chat with him. Maggie no longer had a specific role at the brewery anymore, she did bits of everything when she was around. Charlie and his team ran the brewery, and Dave and his team ran the bar. As the owner, she could now afford to step back from the day-to-day running and concentrate on the creation of new brews.

“Come on, Mr Cooper, we have places to go,” she called over to him and he followed her out of the back door and into the car park. “Right, we're off to see Peggy the pig and have dinner with Jack,” Maggie said to Cooper as she buckled up her seatbelt and set off.

Chapter 4

Jack had invited her for dinner for a very specific reason. She was aware that he’d been renovating the house. The old lodge hall that he'd purchased some years ago had plenty of farmland attached. Plus, it had a large yard to park up cars and tractors. But, at some point, Maggie had mumbled to him that there was nowhere nice to sit outside and eat. So, today he was revealing his latest project that he'd done just for her.

Smiling to herself as she drove to Lodge Hall, she was thinking about her burgeoning relationship with Jack. Whilst it had developed into a romantic one, they had both agreed to keep it low-key for now. Besides Naomi, he was her best friend. Jack was the one she’d turn to if ever she felt down or needed support in any way. And now - he was designing his home around her needs! That showed how close they were becoming.

The farm gate was already open so she drove straight through. Peggy the pig was wandering around but she never ventured beyond the gate. The entire area at the front of the house was her paddock, and that’s where she felt safe in her old age. Though she loved it when Cooper came to visit her. They’d run around the paddock chasing one another until one of them flopped. Then they’d wander into Jack’s kitchen for some tasty treats. Peggy was a very spoilt pig.

Pulling into the yard, Maggie parked up in her usual spot. As she did so, Jack appeared at the open kitchen door to greet her. Cooper bounced from the car to run off and find Peg. Jack approached Maggie to give her a warm welcoming hug and kiss.

“Hey there,” he said, kissing her forehead with a fond peck. “Now then, in my opinion, I’ve done a grand job. So, Miss Maggie Hopps, come on in and see how clever I am.”

“I’m so excited about it," Maggie said with enthusiasm. "I can’t imagine how you’ve done it."

“What do you envision in your mind?” Jack asked.

“Erm… a new door coming from the living room that leads out to some steps. Then, well - you must have used up half of Peg’s paddock to put some garden furniture in it.”

“Partly right but not quite. You’ll find out, soon enough,” Jack teased her as they passed through the kitchen and into the living room.

“I feel so bad about taking half of Peg’s paddock from her,” Maggie said, following him. “Oh! Wow! I was right about a new door. It’s beautiful. Are they proper French doors?”

“Yup, I got them from the recycle yard.” Jack nodded. “I like them because they’re wood instead of that plastic stuff everyone has these days.”

“My windows are still the old-fashioned wood sash type,” Maggie said. “Most of the older houses in town are, but not the new builds.”

“Hmmm… call me old-school, but I like wood. Anyway, off you go, get the doors open,” he encouraged.

As Maggie opened up the doors she saw not steps but a huge wooden decked veranda with a pagoda-style roof covering it.

“Oh, Jack, it’s amazing. We can sit out here even when it’s raining,” she laughed.

“And… wait for it,” Jack said, reaching out to something on the inside of the door. Within seconds, a flash of white fairy lights illuminated the entire balcony.

Maggie put her hands over her mouth in wonder. “Oh it’s beautiful.”

“You don’t see the full effect in the daylight, but it’s pretty enough when the darker nights draw in,” Jack told her.

She turned around and gave him a tight hug. “I love it, Jack, it’ll be so romantic.”

“Do you like the seating area?” Jack asked, feeling pleased that so far she was impressed with what he’d done.

“Whoops, I didn’t even notice. I’m so enthralled with everything else.”

Maggie turned around once again to look at a cosy setup. Jack had fitted L-shaped seating that stretched out, equalling two sofas. He’d kept the seats quite low and fitted a low table in front of them.

“Oh my, we can sleep out here and look up at the stars, the seats are so big," Maggie declared. "I hope Peggy’s not going to be too confined in a smaller space?”

“Nope. Not one bit. She's still got the same amount of room down there. Only now she's got an extra area with a roof for when it’s hot or raining. It’s all open space underneath which you can see if you look over the railings.”

“Ha, ha, ha...they’re both in there now.” Maggie laughed, watching Cooper and Peg running in and out of a spacious roofed area. “I love it all. You’ve even added containers of flowers to give a splash of colour and a water feature too. Oh... you're such a romantic man, Jack Revere.”

“Okay. You can sit down now... it’s time to eat. I got everything ready before you got here,” Jack said. He made sure she was sitting comfy, then disappeared off into the kitchen.

“Don’t you want some help?” Maggie called after him.

“Nope, I want you to relax and enjoy,” he shouted back.

A few seconds later, Maggie could hear music on the balcony area.

“A new sound system too?” she called out. “With speakers outside. It’s all so romantic, Jack, I love it so much."

Within minutes he was back with hot dishes. “I’ve made pulled pork, but don’t tell Peggy, she might get upset,” he joked. “Homemade bread and lots of side dishes. Let’s have our first meal out on the old lodge veranda.”

“I’m jealous. Not only is this so much better than my backyard, but your cooking skills are better than mine too,” Maggie said. She could smell the sweet Chinese spices from the pork dish. “You really are a Jack of all trades these days.”

The evening passed them by all too quickly, and Maggie finally decided she needed to drag herself up to go home.

“I’ve left a big bag of Cooper’s dry food at the brewery," she explained why she was leaving a little earlier than normal. "I'll need to swing by and pick it up, or he won’t be having any breakfast.”

Often, they stayed overnight at one another’s homes, but only ever at weekends. Jack’s workload was a tight one, so he liked to wake up early at the farm. Waving their goodbyes, Maggie pulled away, content with the world.

By the time she arrived back at the brewery car park, it was all in complete darkness. The light switch for the floodlights in the car park was inside the brewery itself. Whoever locked up would have turned off all the lights. Maggie made a note to herself that they needed to fit some lights with motion sensors.

There was a little light from the new apartment block car park at the back. It was just about enough so she could see where she was walking.

“You stay in the car, Mr Cooper, I’ll only be a minute,” she told him and shut the car door.

Maggie trod with care as she made her way to the back door. Before she even got to it, she could see something was wrong - it was open!

For a few seconds, she stood frozen, staring at the open door. Was it safe to enter the building, or should she call the police? Her ears listened out for any noises, but all was quiet. Tip-toeing the rest of the way, curiosity got the better of her and she stepped through the open door.

Once she was in the building, she didn’t want to switch the lights on in case someone was skulking around. Instead, she switched on her phone light and dimmed it a little under her hand. At least now she could see where she was going.

All Maggie could hear was her own heartbeat pounding in her ears. Although she tried not to breathe too loud, her breathing was heavy with worry. She ought to at least call Jack, but she hated keeping him up at night as he had a very early start every day.

Taking one step at a time, she continued to listen out for anything unusual. As there was no sign of anyone in the building, she started to assume someone had left the door open by accident.

Maggie was heading in the general direction of the light switch when her foot bumped into something on the floor. It caused her to let out a muffled cry. Whatever it was, it was big.

Shining her phone light down, she searched to see what it was. Once she'd spotted it, it took all of her resolve not to immediately run out of the brewery. Instead, she controlled her rising panic, moving purposefully to the light switch as she held back the urge to run.

Seconds later, the whole brewery was illuminated. That was the effect Maggie was going for, moving all the switches to the on position. Now, Maggie could look back at the pile on the floor that she'd nearly fallen over.

Her worst fears unfolded – it was a body!

Approaching it, her nose was assailed with a bad smell. How long had it been there? Who was it? Oh no, not her brewery again!

Kneeling, once back at the body, she attempted to look at the person’s face. All that she could see was a bloody mess. Whoever this was, it was a man. Beyond that, he was unrecognisable because his features were so bashed in.

Oh no! Was it Tim? Did someone beat him even more?

Looking closer, she scanned the rest of the body. What she saw caused her to jump back up again as reality dawned. She’d recognised the t-shirt on the body. It couldn't be him, could it? It was one of Peter’s band t-shirts. Was this Peter?

Maggie looked down at her phone as she stood back up again. Confused, she walked away from the body, unable to look at it any longer. She dialled DI Shaw, her voice quivering and making no sense as she spoke to him.

This Mystery is a part of Maggie Hopps Cozy Mysteries Series!

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Murder Brew Mysteries Box Set 2
Murder Brew Mysteries Box Set 1
Easy As Pie

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