Heavy breathing resonated over the phone as a threatening male voice spoke with malice. “You'll do what I tell you, or your wife will see what an adulterous creep you are.”
“It’s come to blackmail, has it?” the second man asked, unable to hide the quiver in his voice.
“Do as I ask and I’ll give you the photos. No one else needs to know your sordid little secret,” the blackmailer replied.
There was a silent pause as both men breathed heavily, each pondering the situation for their own needs.
“He lied to me you know?” The blackmailer was the first to break the short pause.
“I can’t say I want to know if I’m honest. I’d rather you deal with this yourself and not involve me,” the other man responded.
“If he hadn’t been so dishonest, this would be over with by now. Because of his lies, I have to counter his actions to get the best outcome for both of us,” the blackmailer said.
“Us… there is no ‘us.’ I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“You’re as deep in this mess as I am,” the blackmailer snapped. “I’ve waited long enough; my patience is wearing thin.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to do about it.”
“You’re going to do as I say, that's what you’re going to do about it,” the blackmailer repeated his demands.
“Are you mad?” the second man panicked.
“Be thankful you’ve got the easy part of this deal.”
“Why should I care if you show them to my wife? This could cost me my career and my marriage anyway if I'm found out.”
“So do a good job of it and no one needs to know what a pathetic little man you are,” the blackmailer threatened again.
“How many more times are you going to use this against me?”
“This is the last time. I told you, do this and you’ll get the negatives. Don't do it and what you've done to your wife won't matter anymore. You won't be around to suffer the consequences.”
The blackmailer ended the call abruptly.
The second man still had the phone to his ear, realising that he had more to lose than his wife and career. If he didn’t do his part, his life might be at risk too.
It was the first day of November on a typical chilly, autumnal morning. Maggie was visiting with her parents, Mike and Sheila Hopps. She was dropping off Mr Cooper, her Beagle-Labrador cross, while she popped out on a rather important errand for her microbrewery. First though, they shared breakfast.
As soon as Maggie had entered the house, she’d smelt the comforting aroma of home-baked bread coming from the kitchen door. She had intended on heading straight back out again, but the smell was too enticing. No way was she leaving without tasting a warm piece of bread with melting butter.
Sitting on a bar stool by the breakfast island bar, she chatted with her parents. The door was slightly ajar, allowing Cooper to come and go as he pleased. Though he was busy running around outside, weaving in and out of trees in the garden while he chased grey, fluffy squirrels.
“I’m ready for this event Dad, so you can stop all your worrying,” Maggie assured her father after he’d raised his concerns.
“It’s a big event,” Mike replied. “I know your mum’s excited about it because she’s doing the catering, but is it too soon for you? What with your business partner in prison and then Jack getting beaten up on that seminar?”
“After all the negative publicity my business has had, the brewery needs this event. I need this event,” Maggie replied, munching on a thick piece of soft, fresh bread and butter, with homemade marmalade. “This is sooo delicious Mum. I hope you'll be able to cope too. This is catering on a much larger scale than you’re used to.”
“Nonsense, Maggie dear,” Sheila smiled. “I’ll be in my element. You know how it’s always been my dream to run my own catering business. Who’d have thought my daughter would be the one to help me achieve it.”
“I’m happy to help Mum,” Maggie said with genuine fondness. “I know how important it is for one’s self-esteem to be successful. But there’s no shame in setbacks either. God knows I have had my share of them too.”
“Have you been to the prison to visit Peter yet?” Mike asked, ignoring the present conversation as he continued to worry over his daughter.
“Of course, I have. He’s the one who's helped me get this celebrity-rated, professional photographer. Peter still has good contacts and he’s happy to do all he can for me,” Maggie explained.
“Well, if you keep brewing such good beers, like your latest one, you’ll be going from a microbrewery to a macro-brewery in no time,” Mike added.
“Did you like it that much?” Maggie asked. “We used the rare hops I brought back from the seminar. I've no intention of expanding my business, Dad. But the seminar did give Jack and me a bit of a push to experiment with our own hybrid hops.”
“It all sounds very exciting and typical of my daughter to be so adventurous," Mike said. "I’m glad Jack’s in on it with you. He’ll be the steady hand.”
“I’m as sensible as Jack is, Dad. What on earth do you mean?” Maggie retorted. Though she knew exactly what her father meant; she did tend to throw caution to the wind, going off on her own tangent.
“Your dad’s concerned about what happened at the seminar, dear,” Sheila intervened. “We both are. You went there to unwind and ended up in the middle of a murder investigation. On top of that, poor Jack got assaulted.”
“As I said Mum, you get used to the setbacks. Jack’s over it, and with him by my side, I managed to bounce back as well,” Maggie assured them.
“Yes, he’s a good man,” Mike said. “He’s the common sense to your wildness.”
“Dad? I object to that,” Maggie declared, even if he was right. “As much as I adore Jack, it wasn’t him who built up my business, it was me.”
Mike changed the subject when he spotted his daughter’s slight annoyance. “He’s asked me to go and help him out with the hydroponics systems. It seems I’m his new employee. I’m working over there a few hours a week in the polytunnels, so no digging.”
“I know, isn’t it great? When he told me that he was going to ask you to run the indoor growing systems, I knew you’d be over the moon.” Maggie was genuinely pleased for her dad. He’d been at a bit of a loose end since retirement, so Jack's offer would do him good. “He’s taking it all very seriously. It’s like our family project, don’t you think? And the first batch is all going to be mine.”
“How’s his arm healing?” Sheila asked, referring to the plaster cast he had recently removed.
“When they first took it off, he was a bit sore, but now he says it feels like it was never broken,” Maggie reported. “Having such a physical job keeps him fit, so I suppose that helped him heal fast.”
“I was at his farm yesterday, picking up some veggies for my catering,” Sheila announced. “He’s such a handsome man. If I was twenty years younger…”
“Mum, don’t you start,” Maggie warned. “Just because Naomi’s getting married, you needn’t think I am too. I did that once, remember? It was a disaster. Besides, don’t say things like that, what about Dad?”
“Dad knows I’d choose him first, every time,” Sheila said, smiling over at her husband. “Anyway, you shouldn’t compare Jack to your ex-husband. He was such a womaniser. Jack thinks the world of you, I can tell.”
“I don’t think our daughter’s ready for marriage again, Sheila," Mike stepped in. "Jack's a good influence on you, Maggie, but you go at your own pace."
“Thanks, Dad,” Maggie sighed. “I adore Jack, tons and tons, but we both have businesses that we want to build up first. Jack’s been married too and his ex-wife ditched him at the first sign of trouble, so he’s in no rush to marry again either."
“Neither of you are getting any younger, remember that,” Sheila jibed.
“What your mother means is that we’re pleased you’re both working together more and more. That will do for now,” Mike said before his wife had a chance to put her two-pennies worth in and make things worse.
“Well, I for one am excited about the upcoming wedding,” Sheila managed. “I'm catering for that too. Although Naomi’s mum will be helping all she can. I’m looking forward to working with her, she’s been ill for so long that it feels like I haven’t seen her in ages.”
“Yes, she’s been cancer-free for a while now and I’m glad you’ve agreed to work with her, Mum. It’ll mean the world to her and to Naomi too,” Maggie praised her mum.
“What about the groom’s parents?” Sheila asked. “I haven’t heard anything about them.”
“I don’t know anything about them either to be honest,” Maggie replied, realising the truth of that topic. “He’s quite a wealthy man with a few sports shops under his belt. From what I understand, he’s a self-made man.”
“Does it matter what his background is?" Mike intervened again, to stop his wife from getting into gossip mode. "He makes Naomi happy and that’s all we should care about.”
“That’s very true, Dad,” Maggie agreed, jumping off her stool. “Listen, I have to go now. I’ve arranged a limo to pick up my guy from the airport and I want to be there when it arrives. See you both later when I come to pick up Mr Cooper.”
It seemed that by magic Mr Cooper appeared as if he’d heard his name. He came running through the kitchen door, panting with his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. It was obvious he'd been charging around the garden after the squirrels. He jumped up at Maggie in a giddy farewell. His tail wagged in circles as he gave her his full attention.
“You behave yourself Mr Cooper and no digging up any more holes out there,” Maggie warned as she fussed over him.
“Don’t worry, he’s turning over the soil and doing me a favour,” Mike laughed.
Maggie’s parents walked her to her classic Beetle car on the driveway. There, they watched her reverse onto the street and set off on her journey. Maggie could see them waving her off through the rear-view mirror. Before she left the street, she saw them turning and heading back into the house, with Cooper following close behind.
A quiver of excitement fluttered in her tummy as she thought of the next two days. She'd organised a huge publicity event for her business to boost sales after her business partner’s arrest. Ironically, it was Peter who'd helped her pull it all together. Being a semi-famous musician, many of his celebrity contacts had remained friends.
Thanks to Peter, she was on her way to pick up an eminent photographer, the notable Harry Sherman. Though it was costing an arm and a leg, it would be worth it. She hoped the PR event would pull in new business from far and wide, after a temporary slump.
Parking in the short-term car park at the airport, Maggie made her way to the car hire company. She needed to check that her limousine was ready. There were no flight delays so the plane should arrive in the next twenty minutes.
She was spending a lot of money on this PR stunt, so it had better pay dividends. The receptionist at the car hire company directed her to the driver of a silver limo. After speaking with the chauffeur, she went to meet her guest as his plane had arrived at the airport.
Harry Sherman liked to do things in style and had caused quite a stir in the airport lounge as he arrived. He was dressed very flamboyantly in bright-coloured clothes, and a large, wide-brimmed hat. On each of his arms were two beautiful models, one female and one male. It had created quite a lot of attention as onlookers stared as they passed them by. There were even media reporters asking for statements and taking photographs of the arrival.
Maggie smiled to herself, thinking the man looked a bit pretentious. The main thing was that he had a good reputation. He was already creating publicity, which could only be good for the event she had planned.
Once through the airport, Maggie led them to the huge stretch limo she’d hired. Settling them in, she then went to get her own car to drive to the hotel. She’d arranged a small welcoming party at the finest hotel her hometown had to offer.
The whole promo event was to last a couple of days. A day of still photography and a day filming a video for a short TV advertisement. It was all very exciting; she’d never done anything this big before. It was all thanks to her ex-business partner Peter, who, even from prison, had made it all possible.
As she parked in the car park of the Bentley Court Hotel, she could see that the limousine had already arrived. She'd had trouble getting out of the airport. No doubt the limousine driver hadn’t needed to sort out awkward car parking fees or sit around in the traffic queues that she’d had to contend with.
Passing through the hotel lobby, she spotted her photographer speaking with an old man. She didn’t recognise the old guy and decided to go and greet them both, assuming they knew each other. As she got a little closer though, she was surprised to hear Harry sounding quite distressed.
“It was all your doing and I'm going to prove it!"
Unsure that she should interrupt the two men in their heated conversation, Maggie couldn’t help but linger close by. Her inquisitive nature was taking over, although even she thought she was being a little rude listening in. Something was off between the two men and she couldn’t help but wonder what it was.
"As usual, Harry, you're full of hot air!” the old guy snapped. “I more than compensated your sister, why isn't that enough? She wasn’t even married to him anymore!"
"As I told you before, I'm not letting you get away with it. While I'm in this godforsaken town, I'm getting a local solicitor to take on the case. What are you even doing here anyway?" Harry asked.
"The hotel was quick to brag about your arrival as a guest on the community website. This is a small town that likes to gossip. I came to talk some sense into you, after your pathetic phone call," the man asserted.
"There's more to that accident than what you're letting on, old man. I will find out what it is, I promise you that much. The next time I see you, I hope it will be behind bars!" Harry bellowed.
Maggie could see that they were about to part company, so she turned and walked away before Harry spotted her. Not that he’d likely recognise her as they’d only met briefly at the airport. Peter had warned her that Harry could be a bit of an arrogant ass, so she didn't want to get on his bad side.
Her thoughts were reeling. She should stop listening in on other people’s conversations but that had been riveting. Harry was a world-renowned photographer. When she’d contacted his secretary to book him, she’d been told he couldn’t do any event at such short notice. Then out of the blue, the secretary rang her back and said he’d agreed because he needed to visit the town anyway.
Was this the reason why he’d needed to visit Gosdown? Because of some accident involving his sister? How intriguing. From a distance, she watched them part. The old guy looked shaken and for a second, she wondered if she should run after him and make sure he was okay. Harry had seemed a bit hard on him, threatening even.
She decided against it as she watched Harry walk towards the room for the welcoming party. She too needed to get in there and, with all due respect, their argument was none of her business. So long as the photographer did the job he was being paid for, she wasn’t about to get involved in his personal life.
Dashing towards the door that led to the party, she realised that Harry had seen her and was awaiting her arrival by the door.
“Are you okay, Harry?” she asked, seeing that he looked a little flustered.
“Do you mind if we don’t go in there yet?” Harry said to her. “I know you meant well giving us a party but I’m in no mood for mingling.”
“Of course, would you like a drink at the bar, it’s quieter in there,” Maggie asked, wishing she’d not arranged the welcome party after all.
“Yes. My assistants will deal with the local media, so they’ll make sure you get all the coverage you need,” Harry assured her.
It seemed odd to Maggie seeing this pompous man so vulnerable.
“Oh, I wasn’t worried about the party,” Maggie lied. “It’s more that you don’t look well.”
Maggie walked with him to the hotel bar and there he ordered a large shot of vodka in a Bloody Mary. She asked for a bottle of one of her own brews that the hotel sold. Harry led her over to a table and asked her to sit while he finished his drink.
“My apologies,” he said. “I needed a stiff drink before mingling. That old guy I was speaking with, he’s not a very nice man,” he explained, and she noted that his hand was shaking.
“No, you didn’t look happy with him. Is he local? I don’t recognise him.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Maggie,” Harry said, gulping down his drink and waving at the bartender to send him another one. “I took this gig because I have some personal business in Gosdown to sort out.”
“Two birds in one stone and all that,” Maggie smiled, hoping to lighten his mood.
“You could say that, yes,” he nodded, accepting a fresh drink from the bartender.
“Oh, can you put that on my bill,” Maggie said before the barman left the table. “I’m the organiser for the small party in the other room.”
The barman nodded and left them alone.
“Can I help in any way?” Maggie asked, turning her attention back to Harry.
He was quite a sophisticated-looking guy for his age, early sixties Maggie guessed. It looked like he was intentionally bald, with a slender, well-shaven face and a large, solid nose.
“That old man, Arthur Fitzgerald, he’s a murderer,” Harry said out of the blue.
“Now there’s a word you don’t hear often,” Maggie said under her breath. “He looks too old to be running around killing people,” she remarked, her curiosity now aroused.
“My sister’s ex-husband, he was a night watchman on an industrial estate not far from here,” Harry began.
“We have a few industrial estates between the towns. Which one?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t know yet but I intend on finding out all the sordid details while I’m here,” Harry confided in her. “For some reason, he went into one of the warehouses. While he was in there, it burned down.”
“Oh, I remember something about that.” Maggie recalled a vague story in the local news. “But no one was charged with murder.”
“He used to be a bodyguard for celebrities,” Harry said, not picking up on her remark. “Got himself fired for stealing from one of them. Anyway, my sister divorced him after that because she realised what a bum he was. I couldn’t stand the man myself and I was over the moon when they separated.”
Harry took a drink from his glass and remained silent as if he was deep in thought.
“From what I remember, they implied he was stealing goods from the warehouses that he patrolled, is that true?” Maggie asked.
“He was a good father to my twin nieces. They’re devastated by his death,” Harry said with a pained look on his face. “I adore my nieces,” he smiled. “And yes, it wouldn’t surprise me if he had been stealing. The thing is that there’s something odd about his death. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Harry!” a female voice called from across the room. “Come on babes, they’re asking for you. Your audience awaits.”
“I’m coming, Clara,” Harry said, standing up and now wearing his professional face. “I’d better go in then,” he said to Maggie and set off in the direction of the welcoming party.
As Maggie followed, she spotted Jack arriving in the hotel lobby and delayed entering the room.
“Oh, Jack, thanks for coming,” she called out in greeting.
They took a moment to share a light hug and a small peck on the lips before she led him towards the party.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Jack replied, allowing Maggie to lead him towards the noisy room.
Maggie decided not to tell Jack about her conversation with Harry, not yet anyway. The party was too noisy as the media buzzed around the models and the famous photographer Harry Sherman. She watched Harry, noting how different he appeared in public. She must have been privy to a personal side of his character. Whatever had worried him earlier, he seemed to have forgotten all about it for now.
The show must go on and all that. Besides, Maggie was too nervous about all the money she'd spent on this huge publicity event she'd planned. She didn't have time to worry over someone else’s problems. Surely a good solicitor would be able to help Harry sort out his problem.
For Maggie, her business was at stake and she hoped his personal problems wouldn’t affect his professional work.
The evening had been filled with drinking wine, enjoying the company of glamorous models, and the attention of the paparazzi. It wasn't surprising that Maggie had woken up with a headache. She’d left Cooper at her parents’ as the night had gone on until the early hours of the morning. Though she missed his presence on her bed, at least she needn't jump up to run around after him.
She went through the process of her morning ritual in slow motion. Even to the point of putting down Cooper’s breakfast when he wasn’t there. Finally, Maggie set off on her walk through town and headed towards work. Her microbrewery, Bunker Hops, only a short distance away, was based in the centre of Gosdown and so was her quintessential Kentish cottage, so she walked to work most days.
This was to be the first full day of the expensive PR event she’d organised. It would be all about the still shoots, with tomorrow being the video. The idea was that Harry would take photographs throughout the day of everyone doing their jobs. Then again, she had no idea how Harry would organise it all.
Passing through the cobbled market square of Gosdown, Maggie chuckled to herself. In reality, every movement of the day was going to be staged. Even to the extent of having attractive models posing all over the brewery. It would add a touch of glamour to the whole portfolio.
The staff were to be photographed too. They’d even staged a lorry to arrive. Strong male models would be doing the loading of crates and barrels, showing off her brews. It was all make-believe, to add some showy touches to her business.
Tomorrow, she’d invited the entire town to the market square where much of the videoing was to be done. The leaflets they’d distributed described the event as a mini Hops Festival. Though her brewery was the only one in attendance.
Everyone was invited to share free drinks, served from an elaborate market stall. Whilst it wasn’t a market day, the video crew would make it look like it was a normal working day in the life of a busy microbrewery.
She was excited for the day ahead. If all went well, it could spread the reach of her brewery around the country, even worldwide. There was, of course, the obligatory social media campaign too. Her PR manager, Claire, would be promoting their latest wet hops brew.
They'd developed it from the recent harvest of fresh Cascade hops that they'd reaped since returning from the seminar. This was a brew they'd be entering into a hugely popular Christmas Beer Festival in London.
As she arrived through the open bar door at the front of the microbrewery, the scene was chaotic. People were milling around with lighting, cameras, and an array of backdrops and prop items.
She could hear Harry’s voice barking out orders. Glancing his way, she could see he was in his professional persona, not the broken man she had chatted with at the hotel bar. To watch him at work was a revelation, it was obvious that he knew what he was doing.
“Ah, Maggie, there you are!” he called over to her. “It’s about time you arrived,” he said with a snap of sarcasm. “These are all my many assistants you see around you. They’ll be shooting all day long, in every nook and cranny of your marvellous microbrewery.”
“Wow, I thought it was only you who took the pictures,” Maggie said, her mind whirring at all the mayhem going on around her.
“No, no, no. That is not how this works. Not at all Miss Hopps,” one of the photographers called out to her, dragging her away from Harry. “Come this way, we need your presence and we’re already behind because you’re so late.”
“I… I’m not late. I…” Maggie spluttered, not liking the young man’s attitude.
“Stand there and don’t move. We’ll tell you where we want you and what to do. All you have to do on your own is breathe, got it?” he instructed, expecting her to comply.
“I wanted it all to look natural. Not a load of stiff formal poses,” Maggie chimed.
“Yes, yes, Harry will see to that end. Now, if you don’t mind, our makeup artist needs to do something with your hair. I can’t work with that mess,” he declared and called over someone called Tracy.
Thank goodness Tracy was a little kinder. The dark-haired young woman smiled at Maggie sympathetically. With her, she pulled along a trolley full of brushes, makeup, and even wigs.
“You not done this before?” Tracy asked a puzzled-looking Maggie. "Don’t worry, Harry’s a genius. The end result won’t be so staged. Trust his team and you’ll be amazed by what they produce,” she said, spotting Maggie’s strained look.
“Well, I was told he was the best but everything seems so theatrical. Are they always this dramatic?”
“I suppose they are but like I said, they know what they’re doing. Now let’s do something with your looks,” Tracy said. “Zoey!” she called out. “Zoey’s in wardrobe. We’ll need to get you changed into a more appropriate outfit too.”
“What? My clothes are fine. They’re what I wear every day!” Maggie objected.
“Exactly,” Tracy said, turning around to discuss clothing with Zoey, who wore black lipstick and had bright blue hair.
As Tracy and Zoey did their magic with her looks, Maggie spotted her best friend watching on.
“Naomi!” Maggie called over to her. “Come and rescue me.”
Naomi made her way over, with a big beaming smile on her face. “Oh, wow, Maggie, you look stunning. I wish I could afford such elaborate photography for my wedding.”
“No, you don’t. This is crazy,” Maggie said, in between Tracy and Zoey pulling and poking at her entire body.
“There, you’re done,” Tracy announced. “Now don’t go moving around too much or you might get pricked with pins.”
“Is this really necessary?” Maggie asked, looking at the bright red, two-piece tweed outfit she was wearing.
“Oh yes, Harry would do his nut if you didn’t stand out,” Zoey replied.
For the rest of the day, Maggie and her staff received strict instructions on what to do. They were told where to stand, how to smile, and when to breathe. By the end of the day, Maggie found her staff all collapsed in the bar, mumbling to one another that they were glad it was all over.
“Good God, that was like a whirlwind blowing through,” she said as she joined them.
“You want coffee?” Amelia asked her as she placed plates of sandwiches on the tables.
“Oh, yes, please. Thank goodness for my mother’s catering, she’s done me proud,” Maggie noted as she grabbed a tasty, sweet chilli chicken wrap from a plate.
“Yeah, she’s got a lot of mouths to feed today," Charlie said, watching as the entire crew fell into the bar to eat, drink, and make merry now that the morning was over.
“Do you think tomorrow will be as mad?” Maggie said to her head brewer.
“Worse. They’ll no doubt be telling us what to say too, for the video recordings,” Charlie joked but Maggie could tell he meant it.
She was about to respond with a moan when she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. How strange, it was a text from Harry. Why didn’t he just find her in the bar to speak with her?
She read the words out loud, “Had to dash off, darling. Next gig in Oxford. Some of the team will stay around for the video shoot. I’ll get some prints to you asap, so you can start choosing the ones you want. Be back in your town soon. Got me a local solicitor who knows all about you know who.”
“Oh, we don’t get the bigwig tomorrow,” Maggie said with surprise, as she'd thought she'd got Harry’s presence for two days. “I suppose two day's fees with a celebrity photographer would have been extortionate. I shouldn’t complain too much,” she mumbled to herself. "We've still got some of his team."
“Is there room for one more at this party,” a familiar male voice spoke above her.
Maggie looked up to see Jack standing over her table. His usual cheeky, lopsided grin made her feel warm and she moved over for him.
“There’s always room for you Jack Revere,” Maggie replied, genuinely pleased to see him.
“How’d it all go?” he asked.
“You have no idea. It was the hardest working day of my life. No wonder you didn’t want to be in on it,” she replied. “Now that you’re here though, I'm feeling better already."
Jack laughed at her remark, leaning in to sit by her side. “Rescue has arrived,” he told her, kissing her cheek. “Now tell me all about it.”
“It's been a crazy day. By the way, you’re not getting out of tomorrow. These people, they’re a weird bunch."
"Why? What have they done to you?"
“For a start, look at this bright red outfit they made me wear, and then….” For the next ten minutes, Maggie had a good old moan and Jack listened attentively. Despite everything, she knew it had been a great day all around and worth every penny.
"I won't be around until the afternoon tomorrow, you know that don't you?" Jack asked when he finally got a word in.
"I'm only too glad that you're coming at all," Maggie replied. "Tomorrow it involves the whole town. A part of me regrets doing it, but once those orders pick up, I'll be laughing again."
Maggie awoke to the sound of Cooper barking from a distance. Daylight streamed into the bedroom through a gap in the curtains, so she knew it was morning.
“Shh! Mr Cooper, what’s all that noise about?” she called out, attempting to block out the noise by putting a pillow over her head.
But the barking didn’t stop. Reluctantly, Maggie clambered out of bed. She made her way down the stairs to see why Cooper was barking at the door.
“I’m not expecting anything,” she told her dog as she went to open the door.
“Maggie Hopps?” a cheerful young man asked her as he stood inside the open front door.
“Yes,” was all she could muster.
“Urgent package for you,” the courier said, handing over a large hard envelope. "Can you sign here, please?" he said, handing over a little machine.
“Cheers,” she replied once she'd signed, and closed the door as he turned away to walk back up the garden path.
“Oh, I bet it’s the promised prints from our photographer Mr Cooper,” she remembered as she made her way to the kitchen. Putting on a coffee percolator, she opened the envelope. “Wow, he might not be around today but at least he got these to me fast.”
There was a scribbled note explaining that he'd also sent them to her electronically.
“We'll have to go through them later," Maggie told Cooper, who was busy eating his breakfast. "Right now, I've got to get ready Mr Cooper,” she said, quickly scanning the pictures but not concentrating on them as she poured coffee. “Back upstairs for a shower and then off we go again.”
Before she left the kitchen, she opened the back door leading out to the small garden. Cooper rushed out for his morning relief. As much as she wanted to look over the photos, she was all too aware of another busy day ahead of her. Leaving the door open for Cooper, she returned upstairs to shower, coffee cup in hand.
In some ways, today was going to be even more hectic than yesterday as it involved many of the town's residents. Cooper would be going with her as the filming was outdoors in the market square. They were going to be setting up specialist market stalls, one of which would be hers to sell her beers.
It involved the local council and many local businesses, so Maggie knew she’d better wake up fast and get a move on.
By eight in the morning, Maggie had arrived in the market square. Once again, she found herself surrounded by a multitude of people. Stallholders were busy setting up their wares and camera operators were setting up their equipment.
Later that day they had a celebrity guest popping in to pretend he was buying her beers. It was someone that Peter knew and had arranged. The actor was in some soap series on TV that Maggie had never watched. She'd heard of the guy and knew he was a bit of a heartthrob with the women, so that should help her TV ad.
Even the police were out and about for crowd control; what another mad day this was going to be.
“Maggie, this guy’s been asking for you,” Charlie said as he approached her. “Says he’s in charge of all this chaos.”
“Ah, you must be Louis Farnell,” Maggie said, offering a handshake to the tall man before her.
“Yep, I’m the producer and we’d like to get started if you’re ready?” he said, accepting her hand in his long fingers in a rather effeminate handshake.
Maggie noted a set of piercing blue eyes that weren’t particularly smiling at her. He had a couple of days’ stubble on his face and she wondered if he’d come straight from one job to another.
“I'm ready," she smiled back at him, despite his stern look. "Just point me in the right direction.”
For the rest of the morning, Maggie followed instructions on what to say and where to stand. She’d done so much smiling that her jaw ached and so much handshaking that her fingers were going numb. Now she knew how celebrities felt, pretending to be nice to everyone all the time.
“And… cut!” a voice called out and that was the morning session done.
As Maggie sighed out in relief, she heard a familiar voice call out her name. Turning around she spotted Ruth and David Wilson, a young couple she’d met at a seminar she’d recently attended.
“Oh, hi, you two,” she smiled, attempting to show enthusiasm. “I'm so glad you got here. Isn’t this all crazy?”
“I find it all very exciting,” Ruth remarked, her red hair looking a little longer than when Maggie last saw her.
“So, how’s the beer-making coming along?” Maggie asked them, knowing they were new to the brewing world.
“Not as successful as yours,” David said. “If we’d known you were going to be a celebrity on a TV commercial, we’d have been nicer to you.”
“Well, believe it or not, this whole day filming will amount to about ninety seconds of footage and costs a lot of money. I might not even be in it,” Maggie explained.
“Of course you will, you're the star of the show," David said. "Is Jack around? I’d love a chat with him about my hops.”
“He'll be here for this afternoon's session," Maggie told them. "Listen, I can’t hang around I’m afraid. I must go find the producer and check that all’s going to plan,” Maggie explained, as she spotted Louis and dashed off in his direction.
He was leaning in to look at a laptop and giving instructions to some young woman.
“Is it going well?” Maggie asked him.
“Yeah, it’s looking good. Are these photographers yours?” he asked, looking annoyed at one of them.
“They are. They’re taking stills from the day’s event. All part of my PR team,” Maggie explained.
“Okay, whatever! We’re going to eat now. We’ll wrap it up after lunch,” Louis said abruptly, and then walked away.
“Okay, I’m glad we’re done then, thanks… erm…”
By the time she’d remembered his name, he was gone and had disappeared into the crowd. "Right then, I'll..." Maggie was left talking to herself until she felt Cooper lick at her hand as it fell by her side.
“There you are Mr Cooper,” she said, leaning in to pat his head. “All these mad people are missing a few manners, don’t you think, boy?”
“Maggie,” someone else was calling out her name to get her attention.
“Oh, hello Amy," Maggie replied, looking at the young blonde woman before her. "It's so nice to see you.”
"No way would I miss anything that's to do with your brewery,” Amy replied. “And it seems we haven’t seen each other in ages. How’s stuff going?”
“Mad, as you can see,” Maggie said to her friend. “And are you well?”
“Sure am, but I can see that you're busy, so I’ll let you get on with it,” Amy said politely as Charlie was attempting to get Maggie’s attention.
“That producer guy tells me he’s finished with me and Amelia, so we’re off back to work,” he said to her.
“Thanks, Charlie. I’m glad someone’s concentrating on the brewery, my mind’s a whirl,” Maggie admitted.
“Well, it’s been a weird couple of days and I, for one, am glad it’s almost over,” Charlie said.
He’d been one of her employees since the opening of her business and they’d gone through quite a lot together over the years.
“I hope it’s all worth it,” Maggie sighed, feeling resigned to an afternoon of more mayhem. "You remember Amy?" Maggie said, including her friend in the conversation.
As they stood chatting in the market square, Cooper had gone off and was running around playing with a small pug-type dog.
“Oh, that’s little Bugsy,” Maggie laughed at her dog’s antics. “See you later Charlie, I’d best get some control over my daft dog.”
A pair of skinny arms reached out to pick up the little dog and its owner, Aria, stood holding him.
“Hi Maggie, thought we’d come and have a nosy around and say hello,” the young woman smiled at her.
Maggie continued to chat with Amy and Aria, two of her very good friends. “You might all have been best staying at home,” Maggie smiled. “We’ve got our celebrity visiting soon, and it’ll get very noisy around here.”
“So I’ve heard," Aria replied. "The famous Ben Beale from that programme… erm… the Carter Brothers, isn’t it?”
“You know your soaps,” Amy said with a big grin. “Don't tell Maggie but that's why I'm here. Do you like him?”
Aria shook her head from side to side. “Not me. I'm not one for the rich and famous."
"Me neither but I have no choice," Maggie agreed. "But thanks, you two, for coming out and lending me some support. It's much appreciated."
"I'm heading back home now, but I wanted to wish you good luck with everything you’re doing," Aria said. "The town council must be loving it; look how much interest it’s brought into town.”
“Let’s hope they all send a ton of orders my way,” Maggie retorted.
“Of course they will,” Amy smiled, joining in. “You’re the one and only Maggie Hopps. They’ll love you and want to take home every bottle of beer you have to spare.”
“Oh, be off with you both,” Maggie laughed at their banter. “A few big orders will do me, so I can foot the bill for this lot.”
“You enjoy the rest of your day, Maggie," Aria said. "I’m sure this will all work out. After all, you brew the best beer in town,” she added and the three friends hugged lightly before they parted.
“Well to be fair, I’m the only brewer in town,” Maggie quipped and they all laughed before Aria and Amy went off together.
Maggie felt good, it was nice that many of her friends were coming out to offer their support. As her stomach grumbled with hunger, she decided it was time to eat before they started up again. Heading towards one of the cafés, Maggie paused as she heard the sound of loud cheers. It was looking like the celebrity had arrived, her stomach would have to wait.
From a distance, Louis was calling her over; it was time to get back to the recording. Already Maggie felt the same as Charlie had, wishing it was all done and dusted.
“Ah well, Mr Cooper,” she said to her dog, under her breath. “Let’s go do more madness and then we can go home.”
Cooper was busy barking and she looked in the direction that he was wagging his tail.
“Jack!” she called out as she spotted the reason behind her dog's excitement. “I’m so glad you’ve arrived. I can’t take much more of this.”
“Time for me to enjoy one of your beers with a celebrity and pretend we’re best of friends,” Jack said. “I’ll get you back for dragging me into this,” he smiled.
“Come on then, superstar. Let’s go and get you on camera,” Maggie laughed as they both headed off in the direction of all the noise, with Cooper following close by.
Everyone in the market square was bunched together around the newly-arrived celeb. Happy noises emanated around and Gosdown was having a good day. Maggie felt a pang of pride that it was all because of her. Occasionally, she did things right.
“Your dad’s an absolute star,” Jack said to Maggie as he came out of her shower room the next morning. “I’m pleased he agreed to join us.”
“He’s loving every minute of it. And I’m so pleased that you two are getting along so well,” Maggie smiled. She was still lying in bed and enjoying the cup of coffee that Jack had brought to her before he'd showered. “It feels good that we’re doing this together, don’t you think?”
“I agree. It could mean we get to spend more time together too,” Jack replied, pulling a t-shirt over his well-toned, muscled shoulders. “I’d best get off to the farm. I told your dad I’d pick him up this morning, seeing as I stayed at yours last night.”
“Let me know when you’re ready to start the seedlings," Maggie said, taking the last sip of coffee in her cup. "I want to be there right from the start.”
“That batch we started in the first polytunnel, for Naomi’s wedding, is doing good things. The bines have taken over the entire greenhouse system.” Jack laughed, but he was pleased with the results of their earlier testing structure.
“That’s great," Maggie said, climbing out of her warm duvet to hug Jack before he left. "I was a little worried it wouldn’t be ready in time for the wedding.”
“Having that established vine that we brought back from the seminar helped speed it up. I've already given Charlie some fresh hops so he can start mixing the recipe,” Jack informed her.
"He didn't mention it but he knows I've been busy with my PR stuff," Maggie mumbled into his chest.
Jack was holding Maggie in his arms and kissing the light blonde head leaning on his chest. “You know, if this all works out, we should get around five crops a year, once it's up and running.”
“Ooo, I like the word 'we'," Maggie smiled, pulling away from Jack’s arms. “Okay, get off to work then. Go and grow me some amazingly aromatic hops. My future depends on it."
“My future's in it too. We've done the first polytunnel and we're setting up the hydroponics system today. By the way, you still want me for that meeting of yours?” he checked.
“I most certainly do. I want to see your handsome face at my bar. We're going through the photoshoots,” Maggie said as she headed towards the shower. “Did you let Mr Cooper out into the back garden?”
“I did. I’ll let him back in before I leave and shut the doors,” Jack called as he left the bedroom. “I’ve put his breakfast down so don’t go feeding him again. Oh and I hope you get a ton of orders today. You deserve it after all that hard work.”
Maggie smiled at his remark and began to hum a merry tune as she turned on the shower taps. Life was good. She’d put most of her savings into the PR event but it would be worth it, she was sure of it.
Mr Cooper was waiting for her when she stepped out of the bathroom and she fussed over him. Half an hour later, they were in her blue Beetle car and heading out to the microbrewery.
Maggie was hoping for a busy day as a result of the PR event. It had been a real opportunity to expand her business. But when she entered the brewery car park, she was in for a surprise.
“What the…?” Maggie muttered to herself as she looked through the car window.
Before her was a sight that she'd hoped never to see again. At the back of the microbrewery was a newish block of luxury apartments. The building development had never bothered her as it could only mean more custom for her small, exclusive bar. What bothered Maggie right now was the heavy police presence milling around the apartment car park. She could see heavy police activity through the iron railings that separated the two car parks.
Maggie got out of her car and walked towards the metal railings to peer through. Cooper followed her as he jumped through the open car door, wondering where his mistress was going without him.
The dog was excited at all the activity, especially as some of the brewery workers were outside too. Wagging his tail, he made his way around the brewery staff, knowing they’d all fuss him as they always did.
“I’m glad they’re not in our car park, is all I can say,” Maggie heard Charlie’s voice as he came to stand by her.
“I agree with that one,” Maggie replied, not taking her eyes away from the scene on the other side of the railings. “Do you know what’s happened?”
“We saw the medics carrying someone from the ground, over there,” Charlie said. He was pointing to a patch of ground where a small white tent was being erected.
“Suicide? Did someone jump from one of those balconies?” Maggie said, guessing at the circumstances.
“The person they were carrying was covered completely, so I’m guessing they were dead,” Charlie explained. “Hey, look, isn’t that DI Shaw over there?”
“So it is,” Maggie nodded as she spotted the familiar figure. “You know what, I think I'll go take a walk around there. See if he’ll tell me what’s going on.”
“Is that wise?” Charlie said, with caution in his voice. “You know he can get a little disgruntled when you…”
“When I what?” Maggie snapped back as she turned to glare at her head brewer.
“Maggie, you've got a great knack for annoying him, is all I’m saying,” Charlie tried not to be too rude to his boss. “I’m going to get everyone back to work,” he said, walking off.
Maggie watched him for a few minutes as he rounded up the brewery employees. Everyone was curious about what had happened, so she justified her reasoning to go talk with DI Shaw.
Taking no notice of Charlie’s warning, Maggie headed off to walk around the path that led to the apartment car park. Charlie had taken Cooper inside too, so he wasn't following her, which was good.
“DI Shaw!” Maggie called out from the bright yellow police tape that was stopping the public from entering the crime scene.
“Maggie," he called back as he walked over to her. "Hmmm... I wondered how long it would be before you showed up,” Ted said half-jokingly as he got nearer. “After what you and Jack went through at that seminar, you’d think your curiosity would be dampened for a while.”
“I only want to know what’s going on right next door to my business,” she replied. She couldn't help but feel a little annoyed that everyone seemed to be warning her away.
“I don’t know what's happened, do I? Not until I’ve done an investigation,” Ted Shaw replied, giving nothing away.
“One of my employees thought someone had died, is that true?” she pushed, determined to get something from him.
“Yes, there has been a death.”
“And?” she asked, raising her eyebrows at him.
“And nothing. This is a crime scene and it doesn’t involve the brewery.”
“If you’d only tell me what’s happened, I wouldn’t be bothering you, would I?” Maggie couldn’t help herself, she had to know.
Ted let out a sigh. “An old man 'might' have fallen from his balcony to his death. Is that enough for you to go away and let me get on with it?”
“There, that wasn't hard, was it?” she remarked, turning to go. “So, do you think it was a suicide or was he pushed?”
“Maggie!" the DI declared out loud in frustration. He liked Maggie and Jack; they were all good friends. But Maggie could get under his skin at times. "Go back to your business and let me get on with it, will you?"
Ted turned to walk away looking quite annoyed but Maggie knew he wasn’t really angry with her. She also knew that she could be a bit trying under these types of circumstances. All day long now, her mind would be on overdrive. She'd be pondering on the crime that had happened right on her doorstep.
“Stop it, Maggie,” she mumbled to herself as she walked back to the brewery building. “You’ve got a busy day ahead and this is none of your business.”
Arriving at the front of the brewery building, she entered through the bar door. There, the bar staff were all busy cleaning up from yesterday’s event. The bar had been heaving after the filming in the market square. It had attracted lots of new customers and they’d not had time to clean up properly.
“Ah, Maggie, at last,” Claire, her PR manager called out as she spotted her. “There are a lot of emails as a result of the last two days. I hope you’re ready for another busy day?”
Maggie resigned herself to putting the unfortunate incident out of her mind and getting on with her day. She'd not spent all that money to let potential customers pass her by. It was time to go into the office and bring in the new orders.
This Mystery is a part of Maggie Hopps Cozy Mysteries Series!
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