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The storm was no longer on its way; it had arrived in all its grand glory in the sleepy market town of Gosdown. Bolts of lightning streaked across the sky and thunder rattled at the windows. Rain lashed the pavements, drenching any who dared to remain outdoors. This was a day of dark, looming clouds. A typical squall that might follow any hot summer's day, particularly in the unpredictable weather patterns of the English countryside.

Gosdown’s residents knew better than to be out and about when the clouds burst open. They dashed indoors to stay dry, leaving the weather to do its thing. Hopefully, it would wash away the stifling heat they'd endured these past few days. Most welcomed the storm, looking for a refreshing break in the summer’s heatwave.

From a house in a distant street, a dog barked at the rumblings in the dark skies. Elsewhere, a child sought out the assurances of its parents, afraid the noise was a roaring monster on the prowl. Most simply got on with their day, with the knowledge that the storm would pass by soon enough. If they were lucky, the sun would break through soon enough.

The town’s post office floor was a sodden mess. Puddles formed like small pools from the dripping umbrellas, but trade was as brisk as any other day. Standing in the queue to post their parcels, some tutted at the stormy weather. Others discussed other topics, such as the constantly rising prices of everything. Most were intrigued by the new shopping mall that might soon become a part of Gosdown’s landscape.

Not every inhabitant in town was inclined to gossip. One such individual struggled with their own inner turmoil, occupied with deep, dark thoughts. They sat alone in a room, in the centre of town. A ringing phone echoed out, and a shaking hand reached to answer it. The other hand held on to a glass of dark liquor to calm their phantoms. Displeased with whoever was bothering them in their private moment, they answered the phone, if only to stop its shrill ring.

“Yes! What is it?” a quivering voice demanded.

“Your assistance is required. You know what to do,” a familiar voice replied.

“I won’t do it," the voice quivered in response. "I refuse to be a part of this, you can’t make me do it.”

“Yes, you will. And, yes, we can,” was the menacing response. The recipient of the call took a deep drink from the glass of fiery liquor, swallowing it with an audible gulp.

“You need to take better care of yourself," the caller said with a threatening tone. "Be careful not to drink yourself to death!” The call ended abruptly, leaving the receiver numb with fear.

The dark skies illuminated again with a bright electrical discharge of lightning. This time, the pealing of thunder wasn’t so quick to follow. The storm was leaving town.

If only they could leave with it. What choice did they have other than to become embroiled in the devious plans of others? Taking another swig of whisky was the only answer. That should at least give some temporary reprieve. Tomorrow, there would be no escape.

Chapter 1

“Bunker Hops is now officially open for business!” Maggie called out as she cut the pink ribbon. It hung across the double doors that led into the modern warehouse at the back of a huge red brick building.

The day was warm and sunny, as guests mingled outside in the gravel car park. A round of applause sounded out as the tape fluttered to the ground, allowing Maggie to lead the way.

She welcomed her guests into her new business endeavour: Gosdown's first microbrewery. The voluminous room was fitted out with huge silver tanks and metal stairways. The pungent aroma of hops and yeast permeated the air. All major ingredients in the ales and beers were created and brewed by Maggie herself.

Following Maggie, as she entered the brewery, was Cooper. He was her forever faithful friend, a crossbred Beagle-Labrador. His tail wagged furiously as he sensed his owner’s excitement.

“Today, folks, you can enjoy one of our Indian Pale Ales, called ‘Dog’s Head’. It's a recipe from our old-age originals. Or enjoy the golden glow of our ‘Midas Tap’. There’s plenty of choices – from the draft ales, tapped straight from the barrels over there. Or pick a bottle of whatever you fancy. Oh, and for the rare person who doesn't enjoy a beer, then lap on a glass of wine. Have fun everyone, and feel free to look around all the rooms."

The guests did exactly that: they entered the building and spilled out into the brewery. No room was left unveiled, with much curiosity and enthusiasm.

“Well, Mr. Cooper,” Maggie bent down to tickle Cooper's ears, “that went well, don’t you think?”

He gave a single bark in response, but he was also keen to join in the fun. So many unfamiliar smells to investigate. Plenty of treats to pick up off the floor from the plates of hungry guests. Deserting his mistress, he trotted off to join in the gathering.

“I’m glad you talked me into being your business partner, Maggie," Peter Lofthouse said, swigging on a bottle of pale ale. "You’ve done yourself proud. I’m amazed you’ve done so much brewing already,”

“Yeah I’ve been running a nano-brewery from my parents’ double garage. It’s nothing on this place though. Now, we can work up to producing around three thousand barrels a year. We've got great storage facilities. I couldn’t have done any of it without your investment, Peter. There’s another huge room, like this one, through that door over there. We’ll keep most of the barrels stored in there. I'm so excited for this stuff to happen. You know it's been my dream for a long time. Now it’s finally happening, and that’s partly down to you, Peter,” Maggie exclaimed, full of enthusiasm. “I’ve got some great recipes to talk about with you, but not today. I’m a bit tipsy, to be honest, and you wouldn’t get any sense out of me.”

“No regrets then, about selling your lovely house in London after the divorce?” Peter dared to bring up the topic of Maggie’s acrimonious parting of ways with one of his friends. That was how he’d met Maggie, through her husband, Josh, when they all studied at the UCL in London.

“Don’t go spoiling my day, bringing up my troubled past. As it turns out, the money from the sale of the house meant I was on my way to all of this. Plus, I’m lucky to have a rich business partner, like you. How’s the band doing, by the way?”

“We’re about to start a tour in the States, so I won’t be around for a while. Things are good. I hope you play our albums in the tasting shop, every single day.” Peter laughed. “Oh, my friend John's arrived,” he added, waving his bottle in the air to acknowledge he’d seen the guy hanging around at the open double doorway.

“I didn’t realise you’d brought anyone along?” Maggie asked.

“No, this guy’s one of your locals. I bumped into him at the hotel I’m staying at." Peter leaned in to whisper in Maggie's ear. "He’s your local drug dealer and he’s here to give me some pharmaceutical relief.”

“Oh, Peter! You shouldn’t have invited him here.” Maggie replied, shocked that her business partner would risk such a thing. After all, he had high stakes in this business being successful.

“Don’t be such a party pooper, Maggie. It’s only a bit of weed. I’ll speak to you later. Go off and get us some new customers so I can see the money rolling in.”

“Oh God, Peter! You’re as intolerable as my ex-husband. No wonder you two are such good friends,” Maggie said, determined to get the last word in.

She watched as Peter strolled over to meet an odd-looking chap. It wasn’t anyone she recognised. He had pockmarked features and a mop of dark messy hair. Even from a distance, she could see he was a nervy looking fellow. His eyes darted around, as if he didn't want to be there. Her mind was soon distracted though, as she felt Cooper licking her hand.

“Hello, boy, where did you get to?” Maggie said, leaning down to fuss over him. “I’ll bet you’re busy hoovering up all those scraps aren’t you?”

As she stood up again, she spotted Peter exchange something with the dodgy character. All she could do was hope that no one had noticed. She turned around to try and ignore them, when a woman’s voice greeted her.

“Oh, hi, Joan," Maggie forced a smile at the short-haired blonde woman. "I'm surprised to see you here.” She was well aware that Joan Ogden had a reputation as the local gossip.

“It’s quite a gathering you’ve got here,” Joan said, sipping on a glass of wine. “I’m not a beer person, it’s more of a commoners’ drink,” Joan said, without the slightest hint of embarrassment. “I have to tell you, I’m surprised you’ve gone ahead and set this business up. You must know that you’ll have to shut down again, and very soon.”

“What are you talking about, Joan?” Maggie asked.

“The whole town’s excited about having a new shopping mall in the area,” Joan said. She looked pleased with herself that she was the one to share this news with Maggie. “All the commercial buildings on this street have been bought up. They're likely to be demolished soon enough.”

“What about the houses? People live here, it’s a long street,” Maggie replied.

“They’ll be next. You shouldn’t have got permission to start a new business here. Didn't they tell you about the new plans?”

“I inherited the property from my aunt, Jane,” Maggie informed her. “I’ve got planning permission for the business. And, yes, I’ve had letters about selling the property, but they went straight in the bin. I’ve got no intention of selling up.”

“Hmmm, bit selfish of you, if you ask me. This shopping mall will be good for the whole community. Everyone’s in favour of it. You can’t stand in the way of progress, you know. It’s even going to have a modern post office in it,” Joan added, scowling at Maggie’s attitude.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to keep working at the old post office building, Joan, because I’m not going anywhere. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to mingle with my guests,” Maggie said, her tone quite harsh, knowing that the woman deserved it. Who was she to dictate what she should do with her own property? The woman had cheek attending Maggie’s opening ceremony and telling her she needed to move out.

Before Maggie had a chance to move on, her mum’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Maggie, what on earth were you doing talking to that awful woman? I heard her complaining about this brewery the other day, when I was in the post office. She’s going around telling everyone she doesn’t approve of alcohol, but she reeks of the stuff herself. I’m surprised she even bothered to come here.”

“Invitations were sent out to all local businesses, Mum. Anyway, are you and Dad enjoying the party?” Maggie asked her parents, wanting to forget all about Joan and her complaints.

“You know that we’re so proud of you, Maggie,” her father said, beaming with a happy grin. “I'm pleased to have my garage back too. This place is huge compared to what you had.”

“I know Dad, and I couldn’t have got this far without the both of you supporting me over the last year. Anyway, I have to go talk with my guests. You two have a good time,” Maggie said, stepping back to make her escape. She headed for a group of local business owners, hoping to drum up new sales.

At the end of the event, after everyone had left, Maggie locked up and turned off the lights to the brewery. Her constant companion Cooper had followed in her every footstep.

As they walked around the huge silver tanks, Cooper became agitated, but she ignored him. Her head pounded with too much alcohol and the constant small talk she’d been having with her guests. It had been a successful opening though. One with lots of promises from local restaurants and pubs, all offering to try out her brews in their establishments.

All in all, a great start to her new adventure. Even gossipy Joan hadn’t managed to spoil the day.

Chapter 2

“What the...?” Maggie groaned, sitting up abruptly with fear in her bones.

The shrieking alarm on her mobile phone had awoken her with terror. Her sudden movement caused poor Cooper to fall off the bed. Grabbing at the phone, she muted it. Hangovers always did this to her, making her groggy. She groaned again, pulling a pillow over her head to stop the brightness of daylight from getting in her eyes.

Maggie's head pounded from yesterday’s party. She felt like she could sleep for the entire day. But she knew a busy day awaited her. Maybe she'd move in a minute or two. As the bed bounced, she knew Cooper had jumped back onto it, poking his nose into the pillow that covered her head.

“Stop sniffing inside my ear!" Maggie laughed. "I’m coming, I’m coming,” she assured him, knowing he wanted his breakfast.

“I have better things to do than run around after the likes of you,” she told him. He was quick to settle down though, as she rubbed his belly. Something he demanded at every opportunity.

“Okay, let’s start this day rolling, shall we?” she said, sitting up again and stretching out her arms.

Climbing out of bed she stumbled her way to the en suite shower in her bedroom. It had been a warm, clammy night, so she set the temperature of the water to cool. The refreshing pulsating water felt so good on her skin.

Maggie didn’t bother eating any breakfast, she was going out to meet her best friend for brunch. Feeding the hungry hound, who gulped down his food, she busied herself with kitchen chores while he finished.

“You done, boy?” she asked him. “We’ve got a date with Naomi at the café. When you’re ready, of course.”

Her cosy two-bedroom cottage was within walking distance of the centre of Gosdown. Grabbing Cooper’s lead, they set off for the brisk walk. Heading down a small, cobbled hill, they arrived at the large open market square. Soon, they passed by the old historic buildings painted white with crisscrossing dark timber beams. Continuing along the pebbled road, they came to the huge old white building in the market square. It hosted a bell tower and a giant clock face. A glance at the clock told Maggie that she was running a little late.

Passing by the red letterbox of the busy post office, Maggie and her furry friend arrived at her favourite artisan coffee shop. While it had only been open about six months, it was fast becoming a popular meeting place for locals.

Naomi had already arrived and was sitting at an outside table. Even though it was only midday, the sun had already heated the air. It was going to be another hot sunny day in the Swale district of England.

Cooper’s tail swung around in frantic circles, he was so excited to see Naomi.

“Hello, Mr Cooper,” she greeted him. “You’ll take off like a helicopter if you don’t calm that tail down.”

“Before we order,” Maggie said, taking a seat under the table top’s large cream canopy. “I want to tell you that I’m disappointed you didn’t make it to my grand opening.” Maggie frowned at her friend.

“Would you believe that I was away on a romantic liaison?” Naomi replied, grinning. Her dark skin was offset by the pretty white frills on her blouse, billowing up in a small breeze. “I know, I know. I let you down," she admitted. "But my new boyfriend always comes up with the wildest of ideas at the last minute. He came to pick me up after a long shift at the hospital, and informed me that he’d packed some clothes and we were off to the coast. Nothing had been planned: that’s what he’s like, always doing things on the spur of the moment. It's much more fun that way.”

“Well, I hope you both had a good time," Maggie pouted. "At least if you did, it makes it worthwhile missing my grand opening.” She wasn’t super annoyed with Naomi, not with everything she’d gone through recently, she deserved a good time. “How’s your mum?” Maggie asked, knowing she hadn’t been well recently with her diabetes.

“She misses Dad so much since he passed away. I’m convinced it's the grief that's the main cause of her declining health,” Naomi informed her.

“Cancer devastates so many lives. Not only those with the illness, but their loved ones as well,” Maggie said. She remembered well enough the difficult time Naomi’s family went through during her dad's last stages of cancer.

Maggie had known Naomi and her family since childhood. As girls, they had attended primary and secondary school together. As adults, they went their separate ways to university. Naomi trained to become a nurse, but Maggie was more interested in business. After uni, Maggie got married, and she didn’t return to their childhood town for a while.

“Peter came, you remember him, my business partner,” Maggie said as she picked up the menu the waitress had handed her, to browse the day’s specialties.

“Oh, is this a new coffee, Alison?” Maggie asked the red-headed young waitress who often served them.

“It is, Maggie, well spotted,” Alison replied, pleased the latest additions to the menu were being noticed. “It’s an Attikan arabica from the Blue Tokai Roasters. I like it a lot. It kind of tastes chocolatey, with notes of figs, and almonds.

“Yummy.” Maggie smiled. “Sounds like a meal in a cup. We’ll both have one of those please,” she confirmed. "All these different blends, it’s a lot like all the unusual ingredients in my brews,” Maggie said, glancing up at Alison as she wrote on her order pad.

"Well I, for one, can’t wait to sample your beers,” Alison told her. “My boyfriend loves craft ales, and we’re so pleased there’s going to be a microbrewery in this town. It’s about time we had something for younger people."

“When you two have stopped singing each other’s praises,” Naomi joked. “We’ll also have two roasted pepper and cheese toasties as well, Alison.”

“Coming right up,” Alison said, leaving the two women to chat while they waited for their order.

“Talking of new creations," Maggie continued. "I’ve got some great ideas for some new beer recipes. I can’t wait to get working on them in my new brewery.”

“Is it open for business today?” Naomi asked.

“It sure is. We’re going to be brewing every day. I'm also opening the shop and tasting area for five days a week, to start with. We’re all raring to go. I employed Charlie as my Master Brewer. Plus his wife to help him run things. They're the couple I met up in Scotland, at a beer festival. They’ve got tons of experience behind them.”

“Have they moved down here then?” Naomi asked, stroking Cooper’s furry head without realising she was doing it.

“Yep. They’re living in a caravan until the money from the sale of their home up in Scotland comes through. Oh, and I took on a local guy, Benjamin Young. Ben’s been a bit down on his luck and he’s got a family to feed. He doesn't have any experience but he’s a nice guy and a hard worker too. Then there’s Anna as well. You'll already know her. Anna Clarence, the barmaid at the Whistle and Whine bar. She’ll mainly do the front-of-house, the shop and tasting groups. I’m going to need more staff once we start filling those barrels.”

“Sounds like you have it all figured out.” Naomi smiled, proud that her best friend was doing so well. “Is Peter hanging around for a while to help out?”

“No, he's never been a hands-on bloke. He’s gone back to London. His band’s going on some sort of tour in the States. I was glad when he left, to be honest. He annoyed me a bit while he was here. Would you believe that he invited a guy to the opening so he could buy some weed?”

“I’m not surprised, Maggie, that’s musicians for you. At least it wasn’t anything more hard core.”

For the next hour, they enjoyed each other's company, chatting together as they watched the tourists stroll on by.

“Damn!” Maggie called out as she looked at her phone. “I’ve had my phone on mute. Look at this, I’ve got four missed calls from Peter,” she announced, pressing buttons frantically to see if he'd left any messages. “Ah, he’s texted me to ask what’s going on at the brewery,” she said, looking puzzled. “That’s all he says, one sentence? How do I know what he’s talking about? Listen, Naomi, I’d best get round there. It’s our first day so it won’t surprise me if we’ve got some teething problems with the equipment. We’ll do this again, yeah? Next week, maybe, and have a longer catch up,” Maggie said, standing up to put her sunglasses on and grabbing for Cooper’s lead.

They waved their farewells as Maggie set off in the direction of Hopewell Lane. It was one of the longest streets in town, and home to her new microbrewery.

Chapter 3

As Maggie dashed towards the brewery, she heard sirens close by, but thought nothing of them, as her mind was elsewhere. She picked up the pace, almost jogging to get to the brewery. They hadn’t set the new system yet, so it would be no surprise to her if there were some hiccups. She reprimanded herself for not being there for the first day.

Maggie was a skilful and experienced brewer, although not on this scale. In that part she was relying on Charlie, her Head Brewer, to fill in the gaps. Her role was more that of a Brew Master. She hoped to concentrate on developing new recipes and balancing the ingredients. Charlie was to supervise the large-scale production, a role he was more than competent at. If anything was broken, he was the one to fix it. Nonetheless, she should have been there supporting him on day one; what had she been thinking?

As she rushed along, she noticed for the first time just how many of the properties on Hopewell Lane were boarded up. Seeing them brought back her conversation with Joan Ogden. When she’d inherited the building from her aunt, she hadn’t looked into any future developments for the area. All she could think of was the excitement of realising her dream.

It had been her aunt who had encouraged her to start brewing craft beers in the first place. She’d always been very fond of her Auntie Violet, her mother’s sister. As a young woman, her aunt had taken her on overseas holidays, and she had many fond memories of her.

It had come as a big surprise to discover her aunt even owned such a large building, let alone had handed over the deed to Maggie in her will. Its previous function had been as a shoe factory, belonging to her aunt's husband. Maggie could recollect very little about him, because they had divorced when she was very young. As she had no children, and never remarried, that was most likely the reason why she had spoiled Maggie so much.

Maggie noted that some of the shops still remained open, though not many. This street was once popular for its artisan shops. It was a street full of busy workshops for handcrafted products, and also collectables. Now, it looked quite forlorn with the boarded-up properties.

At the end of the street where the brewery stood, there were still around forty residential buildings in use. Were these to be demolished too? Joan had indicated they were next to be bought up by the developers. Though she wasn’t a reliable source as most of her information was likely gathered from gossip. Maggie had no intention of selling her business property, so she couldn’t see how the planning department could allow such a development. In truth, it was the last thing this old, quaint town needed. A shopping centre indeed!

As Maggie’s mind was deep in concentration on such thoughts, a car sped by her at speed, its siren blasting out. This forced her to look up so she could better view the end of the street. What she saw shocked her to the bones. Those emergency vehicles she had heard were all converging around her brewery.

Oh my god! she thought. It’s the brewery! Has there been an accident? What on earth could have happened?

“Come on, Cooper, get those legs going, fella,” she said to her canine companion. “We need to get there, and quick!”

Cooper picked up on Maggie’s urgency and ran by her side. He loved nothing better than a running game in the park, but he sensed his owner’s stress and stayed by her side all the way.

As she drew closer, Maggie could see police cars with flashing lights. There was even a police van, used for transporting lawbreakers. Was it that drug supplier? Has he come back and caused trouble? It didn’t make any sense to her, why would he do that?

As she closed in on the building, she noticed an ambulance too, its doors wide open and the back empty. That meant the medics were inside the building. Oh no, someone’s hurt!

Her peripheral view switched off, and all she could see in her line of vision was the entrance to the red brick building. Who was it? What had happened? She had to get in there! Without realising it, she dropped Cooper’s lead, leaving him free to wander. Yet, he remained by her side, following her.

Maggie entered the small courtyard to the front of her property. The sight before her stopped her dead in her tracks, frozen to the spot. The medics were now exiting the front-of-house shop area, pushing a trolley bed. What was on the trolley sent a chilling shudder through her body, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to stand up. Lying flat on the trolley was a black body bag, its shape clear that a body lay inside!

Dead! Oh no! Who? How? were the only thoughts bouncing around in her head. This can’t be happening!

“Excuse me, miss, can I ask you to move on,” a uniformed police officer spoke with her.

“No… no, I c…can’t,” she stuttered, struggling to speak as her throat constricted in fear. “This is my business. The… the people in there… they… they’re my responsibility.”

Another man's voice called over to her, “Are you Miss Hopps? Miss Margaret Hopps?”

She looked at the plain-clothed man and nodded silently, unable to speak any words.

“Come and sit in my car, Miss Hopps,” the man suggested. “My name’s Detective Inspector Shaw, I’m the senior investigating officer.”

“In... vestigation?” she mumbled. “What investigation? What’s happened? Please t… tell me that my staff are all okay?”

“We need to talk, Miss Hopps,” he said. “Let me explain what’s happened once you’re sitting down.”

DI Shaw took her by the elbow and led her to his car. There, he sat her in the passenger seat, leaving the door open. Walking around the car he took the driver's seat and turned to speak with her.

“At approximately eleven forty-five today, a call was made by one of your employees to the emergency services," he began. "That was a couple of hours ago,” he said, glancing at a watch on his wrist as if that might confirm the information.

Maggie watched the man’s grey eyes, waiting for him to say more. She wished he’d hurry and tell her what had happened. Every second of not knowing was nerve-racking.

“The call informed us that a dead body had been found in one of the larger fermentation tanks,” he said, without any emotion in his tone.

“What? Who? Has one of my staff had an accident?” Maggie cried out, shocked at the very thought that some poor person had ended up falling in a tank that should contain beer.

“At this point, we haven’t yet confirmed the identity of the body, but it’s not one of your workers. They’ve been taken down to the station to make their statements. I know you weren’t here, but as you say, you're the owner of the business. That means that we'll need to question you too. Do you understand what I’m saying, Miss Hopps?”

Maggie nodded her head in response, unable to speak at the horror of what she’d learned. Cooper barked at her side. He’d been sitting there all the time, guarding her as if he knew something was wrong. His bark brought her attention back to her surroundings. She felt like she was waking up from a bad dream. In the distance, she could see her staff, all being led into the police van. This was terrible, they were being treated as if they were suspects.

“Is it a suicide?” she finally managed to ask.

“I find that unlikely, Miss Hopps. Unless he was capable of strangling himself,” he replied as he looked over at the people climbing into the back of the police van.

“Is it necessary to treat my staff like that? You can’t believe any of them were responsible? You’re treating them like they’re criminals.” Maggie said, getting annoyed at how they were being transported to the police station.

“This is a crime scene, Miss Hopps, and everyone, including yourself, is a suspect for now. We need those statements while the situation is still fresh in their minds. I’ll drive you to the station myself, as I don’t want you speaking with them until we’ve finished the interviews. It’s routine procedure, Miss Hopps. We can’t have cross-contamination of evidence in a situation as serious as this. For your own sake, you can’t speak with your staff yet. Is that clear?”

Again, all she could do was nod her head. She felt a growing concern for her staff being treated in such a way. They were more than just employees; they were her friends. No doubt they would be in shock too. They wouldn’t have expected this when they turned up for work this morning.

“This is my dog, I can’t leave him out here," Maggie said, turning to the DI. "Could you have him locked in the office in the building please, so I know he’s safe?”

She didn’t want to leave Cooper at all, but she hoped it wouldn’t be for long. If she could ring her dad, he’d go and collect Cooper soon.

The DI called a uniformed officer over, who led Cooper towards the brewery. She didn’t like leaving him alone but felt reassured as the young officer fussed over him, making his tail wag. At least he would be safe while she was otherwise occupied.

DI Shaw started the engine and they set off. Maggie had a growing sense of anxiety, her business’ first day had been a disaster, and some poor soul was dead!

Chapter 4

On the way to the police station, they remained silent. DI Shaw broke the silence, saying something that surprised Maggie, as it had nothing to do with the crime.

“You’re the last commercial owner on this street who's hanging on to their building," he said. "I assume you’ll be selling up, the same as everyone else?”

“What?" Maggie declared. She was unsure why a police officer would be interested in such a thing when there was a murder going on. "I don't understand what relevance that has to anything. As it happens, I won’t be selling up at all.”

“Not even after someone’s died on your property?” He continued to push her.

“This is not something I want to discuss right now, Detective," Maggie snapped at him. She felt annoyed that so many people were pressing her to sell her property. "To be honest, it's none of your business.”

“As a member of this town," he added, "I believe it'll be good to have a modern shopping centre going up, and some slinky office buildings. Don't you agree?”

“And so will having a microbrewery,” Maggie replied. “Once we're operational, it will bring in tourists.”

"Well, I imagine you'll want to replace one of your tanks. I doubt anyone will want to drink beer from a tank that's had a dead body in it. Anyway, you’ll have to shut down for as long as this investigation goes on,” he added, looking pleased with himself.

Maggie was furious with the detective. Although she kept her anger under control, already she didn’t like this man. What was it with the local townsfolk these days? All pressuring her into selling her own property. Why was everyone so keen on a shopping centre anyway?

When they arrived at the police station, her friends had already gone into the interview rooms. She saw none of them. There were three staff on duty for the first day: Charlie and his wife, Amelia, and Benjamin. She hated to think what must have be going through their minds right now.

DI Shaw said that she’d need to give the booking officer some basic details, which she did at the reception. As she was providing information to the duty officer, she noted that DI Shaw was having a heated conversation with a man she didn’t know.

The man wasn’t in uniform, but he had an air of authority about him. It looked as if he was giving the DI a hard time over something. Was it something to do with her, because they kept looking her way? She wondered if he was the DI's superior, by the way he was looming over him.

Whoever he was, he had striking blue eyes. When he turned her way, she felt goosebumps ripple up her arms. It shocked her that she felt a sudden physical attraction for this total stranger.

Finally, the DI walked towards her, mumbling to himself and looking annoyed. It was obvious the man had ruffled his feathers, but she didn’t care, seeing as the DI had annoyed her.

“Come this way, if you’re done,” he said to her, abruptly.

She said nothing and followed. He stopped at a locked door to press a code into an electronic keypad to gain access. It led into a busy corridor leading off to various offices and rooms. Pressing the buttons of another keypadded box, they entered a small interview room.

As he sat down on a chair at a small table, he pressed the record button on a tape recorder. Speaking, DI Shaw said his name and Maggie's name out loud to the tape. “Do you require any legal representation Miss Hopps?” he asked her.

“Am I under arrest?”

“No, not yet anyway," DI Shaw replied. "This is an informal interview at this stage.”

“Then let’s get it over with,” Maggie responded. “The sooner, the better.”

“Good, so let's start. Did anyone contact you about what happened this morning, Miss Hopps?” he began.

“No. The first I knew of it was when you told me a body had been found,” she answered.

“I noticed you rushing towards the building, were you aware of what had happened then?”

“No. I’ve already said that the first I knew was when you informed me.”

“So, why were you rushing?”

“I'd received a text from my business partner. My phone had been on silent, so if anyone tried to contact me they wouldn’t have got through. I can only assume my staff contacted my business partner instead. I had a few missed calls from him, and a text asking what was going on at the brewery, but no other details,” she finished.

“Where were you this morning? Before arriving at the brewery?”

“I was having coffee with a friend. She’d missed the opening ceremony yesterday, so we agreed to catch up over brunch.”

“I gather you attended the party at the brewery yesterday then?”

“Of course I did.”

“Did you know everyone there?”

“No. Invitations were distributed to lots of businesses, both in and out of the town. Different people passed through as the day went on.”

“Did you notice anyone, or anything, suspicious?”

Maggie shook her head from side to side, but thought of Peter and his drug-dealing friend. She’d decided against bringing that up as she didn’t want her business being associated with a drug dealer. Besides, that couldn’t have any bearing on a murder investigation.

“How well do you know your staff?”

In Maggie's mind, the questioning seemed to go on for hours. DI Shaw bombarded her with trivial issues. Often repeating the same question at intervals, like he was trying to trip her up. He never outright said it, but Maggie felt that he believed she was the murderer. At the end, he requested that Maggie sign a statement that he’d written out. She checked it word for word, not wanting any misleading information to be recorded in it.

“Right, you’re free to go, for now, but be aware that you could be called upon at any time for more information, Miss Hopps,” he said, and Maggie thought she sensed a little disappointment in his tone.

“What about my business?” she asked. “Can I stay open, or are you closing me down?”

“That’s not for me to decide. You won’t be able to enter the building for the next couple of days. It's a crime scene, and forensics will need full access to go over it in fine detail.”

Maggie didn't reply, the last thing she wanted was to give the DI any pleasure in seeing her disappointment. This was terrible news. Day one of her business and already she was shut down. They had tight schedules for the production of many batches. She’d have to contact all their new customers and explain the delay.

The DI led her back down the corridor. Once again following him she passed a tearful Amelia, one of her staff, seated in a chair and all alone. As Maggie went to speak with her, the annoying DI pulled her away, stopping her.

“No, Miss Hopps!" he reprimanded. "As I’ve already told you, we can’t have cross-contamination of witness evidence. You can speak with your friends once we’ve released them.”

“Can you at least have someone comfort Amelia? You can see she’s in distress,” Maggie bit back at him as he led her back into the reception area. “Why is it taking so long to interview them?”

“Your interview was quicker because you weren’t in the building when the body was discovered. Your staff were all present, so we need to get a clear picture of how the morning unravelled for each of them.”

“This is ridiculous, Detective. None of the people who work for me are capable of murder. Please stop referring to them as if they’re suspects. I assure you they are not.”

“I know you feel that way, Miss Hopps. But someone murdered the victim. We have a duty to the public to ensure we don’t release a murderer. Until the interviews are complete, I can’t comment on the potential involvement of any of your friends.”

“Very well. But rest assured, I will be contacting a solicitor to make sure the next time you interview any of us, we have legal representation with us.”

The DI said nothing as he held open the outer door, waiting for Maggie to step through it. She stepped outside but felt as though she was abandoning her friends. Although there was nothing she could do at that moment, she would follow up on getting legal help for them all. This was proving to be a terrible day. Not only for her business and her staff, but also for the poor victim, whoever that might be.

Chapter 5

As Maggie left the police station, she stepped right into the chill of a torrential downpour lashing down all around her. With no coat and no car, because DI Shaw didn’t have the courtesy to offer her a lift home, she cursed him. It seemed that man liked her even less than she liked him. Looking up at the greyness in the sky, she felt it matched her mood: dark and gloomy.

“Soak me why don’t you?” she mumbled to herself. “All that damn sun we’ve been having, and I have to come out into a storm. My day couldn’t get any worse,” she continued moaning to herself, uncaring if anyone nearby heard her.

Maggie Hopps had always been an independent individual. Strong in self-confidence, quick in her decision-making, and always ready to rise to a challenge. Never had she regretted anything in life, other than the huge mistake she had made five years ago in marrying a musician.

Other than that short disaster, she was a confident and content person. Indeed, Maggie was never afraid to confront a problem head-on, and she was always one to stick up for the little guy. In her mind, this situation was exactly that. If that detective thought he could bully her staff with his groundless accusations, then he was very much mistaken. She’d got to know these people very well and was confident that none of them were capable of murder.

Pulling her phone from her pocket to call a taxi, it rang before she had the chance to use it. Unable to read the screen in the rain to check who was calling, she answered it. At the same time, she dashed under the cover of an overhanging ceiling attached to the police station.

“Hello!” she called out, over the noise of the beating rain.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re okay,” a familiar voice answered back.

“Naomi, hi,” Maggie greeted her friend.

“Your microbrewery is on the local radio news!” Naomi informed her. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you ever since I heard it.”

“You’re joking! Would you believe the police took us all in to supposedly help with their inquiries,” Maggie said. “It’s dreadful, Naomi. They’re treating us like they think we all did it.”

“Do you know who the victim is?" Naomi asked. "It says they haven’t identified the body yet?”

“I have no idea. They're closing my business down for now, as well. It’s the last thing we need Naomi; we’ve only just opened!” Maggie cried out in despair.

“I know, you must be so upset," Naomi sympathised. "Who was it that found the body?”

“I’m not too sure but it might have been Amelia because I saw her in tears. They wouldn’t even let me talk to her because I wasn’t in the building at the time. I don’t think they know who the victim is yet, or at least they’re not telling me who it is. Can you meet me, Naomi? I could do with someone to talk to right now."

“I can’t, Maggie, I’m not in town. I was in the car with Tony about fifty miles out of town when we heard about it. We’re off on another escape. I’m so sorry I can’t be there with you, but I’ll be back in a couple of days.”

“Crikey, that happened quick,” Maggie expressed her surprise. “We were only at the cafe together a few hours ago.”

“I know!” Naomi laughed. “I told you he’s crazy like that.”

“Can’t you come back now?” Maggie asked again, disappointed her friend was out of town. “I could really do with a shoulder to cry on.”

“I know, Maggie, but I’m miles away. We can video call tonight if you want? You can tell me all about being questioned at the police station.”

“No, it's okay, Naomi,” Maggie said, refusing her friend's help. Her whole day had been full of frustrations, it felt like one major event after another. “I’ve got lots to do, as it happens. I have to go. Have a good time,” she added before cutting off the call.

The rain continued its relentless pelting down on her, adding to her irritations, and Naomi hadn’t made her feel any better either. She’d never known Naomi to become so involved with a guy. Her friend had spent so long studying to become a nurse, followed by nursing her parents through their illnesses. After that, she’d studied even more to become a specialist nurse.

Now, she seemed to be throwing caution to the wind, right when Maggie needed her the most. A small part of her felt jealous of this new boyfriend. Ever since Maggie's divorce, she and Naomi had been close, had always been there for each other. Now, Naomi had met this guy and her priorities seemed to have changed. Ah well, she’d have to pick herself up and get on with it alone.

Dialling the number of a local taxi firm stored in her phone, she waited under the dripping canopy. Misery was her only companion today. Naomi might not have any time for her, but so what! She didn’t have time for Naomi either.

Maggie had every intention of getting to the bottom of why someone was murdered on her business premises. The sooner she could help the police sort the case out, the sooner she could open up her business again. She’d worked so hard this past year to get where she was. For that reason, she was determined to help the police speed up this investigation.

By the time the taxi dropped her outside of her parents’ house, the rain had miraculously stopped. Maggie’s dad came out to greet her and he was a warm, welcoming sight.

“Oh, Dad, I’ve had a terrible day.” She finally released her anxieties as her dad came up to embrace her.

“I know, sweetie, I know,” he said. “Come on inside, Cooper’s waiting for you.”

“Oh, you picked him up! No wonder I love you so much, Dad. Thank you,” she said, almost sobbing with joy at seeing Cooper come bouncing out of the house to greet her too. He wanted in on the action, showing how much he loved her.

“How did you both hear about it then?” she asked her parents, entering the living room where her mum hugged her too.

“It was on the local TV news," her mum replied. "It said a dead body was found at your brewery. Is it true that all the staff were taken in to help with the investigations? Your dad guessed Cooper must be locked up in your office. So, off he toddled, to collect him. There were police all over your lovely new business, honey.”

“I know, Mum. Yes, they took us all in and they’re closing us down until the forensics have finished,” Maggie explained, taking a seat on the couch.

It was so good to sink into a soft comfy seat, allowing her body to unwind. Maggie hadn't realised how tense she was. Cooper jumped up onto her lap, taking up all the room, but she didn’t care. His hugs were exactly what she needed right now. He licked at her face with giddiness. Under normal circumstances, she’d stop him once he got overexcited, but not today. She needed his love today.

“Who’s been murdered then?” her dad asked. “I hope to God it’s not someone you know?”

“They haven’t told us the identity,” Maggie sighed, relieved to be with her family.

“I’ll go and put the kettle on,” her mum suggested. That was the English answer to everything: a hot cup of tea.

“Can I have coffee, Mum?” Maggie asked, not caring much for the traditional English tea habit.

“Of course you can dear," she called out, leaving the room. "You relax and Dad’ll put the news on if you want.”

“To be honest, Dad, I don’t want to listen to it right now,” she said, feeling exhausted.

“That’s not like you,” her dad replied, surprised. “You usually want to get to the bottom of everything. Did they give you a hard time at that police station?”

“Only what you'd expect," she replied. "I do intend on poking around, when I get the energy for it back,” she confirmed, assuring her dad that her curious nature was only on hold. “I’m certain they suspect one of us did it. I passed poor Amelia and she was in tears. It made me think she might have found the body. They wouldn’t let me speak to her though. That’s when I decided I’m not sitting on laurels over this one.”

“Ha ha! That’s my girl,” her dad declared.

“The detective that questioned me wasn’t very friendly either,” Maggie added, frowning at her experience “I don’t have much confidence that they’ll be quick to sort this out, not without a push in the right direction.”

. “That sounds more like my daughter!” Her dad smiled, pleased that she wasn’t allowing what happened to get her down. “Why would they think any of you lot had done it anyway? Sounds to me like they’re jumping to an easy conclusion instead of doing proper detective work.”

“Exactly, Dad,” Maggie agreed, stroking Cooper’s ears while she finally began to relax. “Tonight, I sleep. Tomorrow, I’m getting legal advice for us all. I’m not having them try to blame innocent people. There’s a murderer out there that needs catching. The sooner that happens, the better for everyone, including my brewery.”

Thank You!

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