The seasonal chill of winter had arrived with a vengeance. After a long, hot summer, autumn was proving much colder. It seemed that winter had finally taken an icy November grip. As evening drew in, hailstones rattled against the windows of the homes in the English town of Gosdown.
At the end of an otherwise dark Hopewell Lane, stood a building that was lit up like a welcoming beacon on a dark, gloomy night. It was an old, large red brick building that housed the Bunker Hops microbrewery. Those on the inside seemed blissfully unaware of the atrocious weather conditions outside. They were too busy enjoying a small celebration. It was the winter launch of a cranberry and ginger pale ale, aptly titled BerryGin.
The producer of this flavoursome Christmas recipe was the owner of the microbrewery, Maggie Hopps. She always enjoyed creating new flavours for her ever-growing customer base. Bunker Hopps had been open now for around two years. This month was a very special one for the microbrewery.
They had been granted a licence to sell and drink alcohol on the site. That night was the first night that guests could buy their draft ales for consumption on the premises. It had always been Maggie’s plan to operate a small bar in the brewery, and it had taken a couple of years to achieve it.
Country folk music played in the background, to help with the party spirit. The building vibrated with the laughter and chatter of happy people. Soon, a famous rock band would play, though they’d toned down the beat to more of a country-rock sound for this occasion. It was led by one of the business partners of Bunker Hops, Peter Lofthouse, though this wasn't his stage name.
Previous launches had been held in the back brewing room and not so much at the front-of-house. The brewery had been large enough to accommodate such a sizeable gathering. Now though, Maggie had extended the building at the front to make room for a modern bar. Guests now enjoyed comfy, soft seats as they sat around tables drinking good beer.
The walls and ceiling were adorned with sparkling Christmas decorations. They shimmered in reds and golds, and other glittering garish seasonal colours. Among this décor were the many certificates and awards that Bunker Hops had won over the few years of their existence.
None stood out more than one particular bright gold medal. It also had a matching framed gold certificate. Last year, Maggie had been given a very special local award. It had been presented to her by the local council and police department.
Maggie Hopps was a popular local character, known not only for her amazing ales and beers. Two years ago she'd helped solve the murder of her cousin. Then, last year she'd assisted the police in capturing a gunman. For the latter, she'd received the Pride of Gosdown Award, commending her bravery in serving the community.
All that was behind her now and Maggie was concentrating on making her brewery a success. Whilst she was proud of the award, she would have preferred not to make such a fuss. The only reason she’d agreed to accept it was because she thought it would be good PR for her business. That had turned out to be true. Many newspapers and magazines had wanted to run articles on the amateur sleuth of Gosdown. Plus, they all wanted to know what she did for a living, so it had been a win-win situation.
Maggie was born and raised in Gosdown, though she’d moved away to go to university. Whilst away from her hometown, she had also married her university boyfriend. When that relationship had shattered into tiny pieces, she’d returned home. In the last few years, she'd re-affirmed old friendships and also made lots of new ones.
With a nasty divorce under her belt, Maggie had done a lot of growing up when she’d left home. But, as far as local residents were concerned, the award couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person.
She was a popular character in Gosdown. This was no doubt helped in part, by her involvement in solving local crimes, in particular, the local homicides that had happened in this sleepy town. Locals often referred to her as Maggie Marple, after the famous Agatha Christie character.
It was her naturally inquisitive nature that had led her to assist in the solving of the murders. For most small towns, murders are a very rare occurrence. Yet Gosdown had been unfortunate to suffer two such events in as many years. The hardy residents of Gosdown now went about their business in safety, said homicides all but forgotten.
Maggie Hopps was starting to feel a little lightheaded. She was regretting not having eaten any lunch that day. She’d been so busy preparing for this launch party that time had flown by. The result being that the alcohol she'd consumed in the last hour had gone straight to her head. She had to admit, she was a little tipsy. Though, truth be told, she didn’t mind, it had helped her to unwind from the stresses of the launch.
Her business was growing, and it was all very exciting. Maggie had started with a team of four, and now that had expanded to a team of ten employees. All her hard work was finally paying off.
The launch of a new beer recipe was a great way of gaining publicity for the business. Maggie always made sure it was well advertised both locally and in the nearby cities. Inviting people from local businesses ensured that her microbrewery was a solid part of the community. That was something Maggie felt a great deal of pride over.
Being a part of the community was a core principle of her beliefs. Also being a local girl, she wanted to be a part of Gosdown's well-known artisan crafts community. Though she also looked further afield for new clientele, which had also paid off. The brewery now had local, national, and international orders on its books.
“Hi, Monique, how’s that busy restaurant of yours?” Maggie asked as she mingled among the guests, making small talk.
“Oh, darling, as you say, it’s busy,” Monique replied. “This new BerryGin will be perfect on my Christmas menu. I even like it more than last year’s Christmas brew. Which, I must add, takes some beating.”
“Thank you. I went for more of a berry taste this year. With last year’s, I'd concentrated on mince pie spices,” Maggie explained.
"Where is that lovely man of yours?" Monique asked in her usual loud voice.
Most people of Gosdown were well aware of Monique's position. She owned a Michelin star restaurant in the town and was renowned for her eccentricities. The fact that she'd been born a man made no difference to her friends. She was simply a loud, eccentric, and glamorous character of the town.
"How many times have I told you, Monique?" Maggie laughed. "Jack is not my man."
"So how did you know who I'm referring to then?" Monique gave her a red lipstick smile.
"Because you want him all for yourself," Maggie laughed again.
"Oh, I do, I don't deny it. Alas, my darling, he only has eyes for you and your beautiful blonde curls."
As they stood laughing and chatting, a male voice came over the microphone. Peter introduced the next song that his band would be playing. Besides being a band player, he was also Maggie's silent business partner. He rarely made it to the launches, but when he did it was great publicity for the brewery because his band was semi-famous.
“So, guys, we thought we’d slow down the rhythm a little and do a cover of the nineties hit by Lucinda Williams. How do you like this one, it's called Drunken Angel?”
The crowd clapped their hands together in appreciation and the band began to play. Peter’s band toured the world, so Maggie felt honoured to have The Commanders playing at the brewery. Plus, she got the band for free. She’d known Peter Lofthouse for many years. He’d loaned her a big chunk of money to start up the microbrewery some years ago, so she'd always be grateful to him.
The opening of the microbrewery had been delayed because of the terrible murder of her cousin. At that point, Maggie had suspected that he might pull out of their partnership. The delay had been a very stressful time for Maggie. Not only was a family member murdered, albeit one she didn't know, but it injected a great deal of doubt in the future of her business. Fortunately, Peter had kept his faith in her and continued to fund the business as it expanded.
Then again, Peter was also good friends with her ex-husband, but that had never bothered him. He was an easy-going character. The type that never let things like 'bitter divorces' come between friends. He'd remained friends with both.
“Ah, Maggie, there you are,” a familiar voice called out behind her.
Maggie turned to see her best friend, Naomi, approaching her with her boyfriend in tow.
“Oh, Naomi, I’m so glad you made it, and you too Tony,” Maggie said as she hugged Naomi in greeting.
“What? You never thought I’d miss an opportunity to hear the famous Commanders play, did you? Tony’s a big fan too, so it was a no-brainer,” Naomi said, taking off her coat as she’d come in from the cold outdoors.
Naomi had been Maggie’s best friend since their school days. They’d both left their hometown to go to university, and then both returned later years. Although, unlike Maggie, Naomi didn’t have the extra baggage of a messy divorce following her around. She'd become a registered nurse and worked in the nearby city at Canterbury General Hospital.
Tony had left them to make his way to the front of the crowd so that he could watch the band, leaving the two friends to chat. As Maggie turned around to speak with Monique, she too had wandered off.
“Looks like Peter’s drawn in a good crowd for the launch,” Maggie said, pleased that the turnout was so good.
“Yeah, but are they here for the music or the beer?” Naomi laughed.
“The orders are rolling in so I’m not complaining,” Maggie replied. She felt good that everyone was having a good time.
The band had moved on to another number and the music set a good atmosphere. It was all good for increased sales, Maggie thought. She looked around at her new bar and felt great satisfaction that her company had managed to come so far. Live music might become a regular hot spot in the Bunker Hops bar, seeing as it seemed so popular.
Tony soon returned and was now chatting with Naomi. Maggie saw it as a good opportunity to continue her mingling around the crowd once again. As she did so, a stranger caught her attention. It was mostly because she knew many of the faces at the event, but this one didn’t seem to fit.
A pale-looking, almost white-haired woman was standing by herself. She was drinking a bottle of the launch beer, which was the only brew that was free at the party. What piqued Maggie’s interest more was how dishevelled the woman looked. Her hair was messy and looked unbrushed. She wore a white blouse that appeared grubby, bordering on dirty.
The woman looked as though she'd been sleeping rough. Gosdown didn't suffer from homelessness, as far as she knew, but she supposed the woman could be from the city. Maggie was a caring person, by nature, and felt concerned for the young woman, so she approached her.
“You like the new brew?” Maggie asked, referring to the beer bottle the woman was sipping from.
Cooper, Maggie’s ever-faithful dog, had followed her over. He stood wagging his tail at the newcomer. It was an odd situation though because the young woman had a nervous look on her face.
“Oh, it’s okay, don’t put your beer down,” Maggie said when the young woman put the bottle on a table. “It’s free, don’t worry,” she tried to reassure her.
The woman seemed anxious around Cooper, so Maggie called him to her side. It didn’t seem to help as she remained anxious at Maggie’s attention. Maggie picked up the beer bottle and attempted to hand it back to her, but she made no effort to take it. Now that Maggie stood closer to her, she thought the young woman looked distressed.
“Please, take the beer, it’s free.” Maggie smiled but to no avail. Maggie wondered if the woman didn't speak English.
Giving the woman one of her best smiles, she noticed how she looked around as if she was afraid of something. Without any warning, the woman turned to bolt, moving at speed through the crowd towards the door. Maggie was left holding the beer bottle in utter surprise that the girl had left in such a hurry.
Cooper gave a single bark and turned to pursue the girl, while Maggie followed in his trail. By the time she arrived at the door and stepped outside, there was no sign of the woman. She had disappeared without a trace.
The entrance to the bar was positioned so that those walking along Hopewell Lane could have easy access. Maggie looked down the long street but couldn’t see anyone. Although the hazy yellow streetlights didn’t allow for much light on such a cold, frosty night. A freezing fog surrounded the empty cars. It covered the cold metal in a layer of frost, giving them an eerie appearance like spectral shadows.
How could someone disappear so fast? Not even Cooper made any attempt to go any further, as if he too had no idea which way the young woman had gone. As she stood there attempting to see through the dim light, Maggie noticed the music from the brewery become louder. The door to the bar had been opened.
“What are you doing out here?” a deep voice asked her.
“Oh, Jack, hi,” Maggie answered. “I was looking for someone. A… a young woman who left in a hurry. I thought that… well… she looked troubled.”
“Could it be that she didn’t like the new brew?” he joked.
Maggie pushed at his shoulder playfully as they turned to walk back into the bar.
“Now then, Jack Revere, you know that everyone loves my brews,” Maggie joked as she returned into the warmth and noise of her bar.
“Seeing as it’s me that grows your hops, I’ll second that,” Jack laughed too.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were coming?” Maggie said, only too pleased that he'd finally arrived.
“I had a few last-minute chores. My pig didn't want to leave the warmth of the kitchen," he explained. "Now that I’m here, I hope I'll get the full attention of the owner, for at least ten minutes.”
“I’m yours for the rest of the evening,” Maggie offered, more than happy to be in the company of this handsome man. “So long as you don’t mind my dog tagging along too.”
Jack looked down at Cooper and made a fuss over him. Yes, indeed, wherever Maggie was, you’d find her dog right in her shadow. Not that it bothered Jack; he was fond of Cooper, though not as much as he was of his owner, the lovely Maggie Hopps.
Leaving Cooper in the car, Maggie entered the post office to send a parcel. As always in this place, there was a queue. Most people were holding dripping umbrellas, so Maggie joined the end of the line as she avoided little puddles on the floor and waited for her turn.
“Hello, young Maggie,” a croaky female voice caught Maggie's attention.
Looking up from her phone, she could see it was Mrs Walker, an elderly woman that she knew, standing in front of her.
“Hi there, Enid,” Maggie smiled, slipping her phone back into her pocket. “What on earth are you doing out on a gloomy day like this?”
“If we all stayed home because of a bit of rain, we’d none of us get anything done, now, would we?” the old lady replied, smiling back at her.
“Yes, I imagine you’ve seen a lot of rainy days in your time,” Maggie said, remembering that Mrs Walker was around ninety years old.
“While you’re here, Maggie,” Mrs Walker continued. “Can you send me a few bottles of your latest beer? I do like the berry flavour because I’m quite partial to anything tangy. My mother always said I had a tangy tooth.”
“Of course I can,” Maggie replied. “Would half a dozen be enough?”
“That’s very kind of you dear; how’s your mum these days?” Mrs Walker was quick to change the subject. She didn’t get to speak to many people these days, so when she did, she’d get as much in as she could.
“Wishing she was half as fit as you,” Maggie laughed, always amazed at how Enid could always be seen out and about town. How could such an old lady be so physical?
Enid Walker was one of the local characters about town. She was a spinster who’d lived in Gosdown all her life. Never once had she set foot outside of the county boundaries, so the rumour went. She’d been a schoolteacher during Maggie’s parents’ younger years. To Maggie though, she'd always seemed very old, even when she herself was a child.
The two chatted on until it was Mrs Walker’s turn at the post office counter. As if on cue, Maggie’s cell phone rang out.
“Excuse me, Enid,” Maggie apologised as she answered her phone. The old lady smiled and turned away to talk to Mr Singh, the postmaster. “Hi, Jack, can I call you back," Maggie said. "I’m about to get served at the post office any minute.”
They agreed to delay their conversation which was just as well. Within moments, it was Maggie's turn at the counter as Mrs Walker had completed her business.
“Oh, while you’re here, Maggie," Mr Singh said as he recognised her. "I have a parcel waiting to be delivered to your brewery.” He then disappeared to a back room to find the parcel in question.
“Great, we can do swapsies,” Maggie joked as she placed the parcel she'd brought in with her onto the scales for weighing.
“Gary was going to call around with it this afternoon, but seeing as you’re here, you can save him a job.”
“No problem,” Maggie said, paying for one parcel to be posted out, whilst collecting the other.
As she came out of the post office, she was glad to see that the rain had stopped, although the sky was still gloomy and grey. Dashing back to her Beetle car, she tickled Cooper’s ears as he stuck his head through the open window.
“I’m back, boy,” she told him. “I said I wouldn’t be very long,” she spoke as he licked at her ear from the back seat.
Maggie took out her phone again and pressed one of the memory buttons to call Jack. Putting the phone on speaker, she could hear the dial tone starting up. She also stared at the photographic image of Jack’s face on her phone as she waited for him to answer. It was only a small image, but it showed his handsome features well.
Jack Revere was a very good friend she had known for a couple of years now. They had a lot in common in that they’d both experienced bitter divorces. That was the root of their problem and the reason why their relationship hadn’t developed any further. Neither of them wanted to get any deep involvement in a romantic relationship. Instead, they enjoyed one another’s company in different, but complementing ways.
“Maggie,” Jack’s deep familiar voice came through her phone. “I’m wondering if you fancy going to the cinema tonight?”
Jack had many pleasant functions, and one was to take her out on weekly dates, another was to supply her brewery with hops. He farmed a small holding outside town and had become a successful market gardener. When he had the time, he also did the odd bit of landscape gardening for a living. The old saying - Jack of all trades, master of none - did not apply to Jack. He was a master at whatever he turned his hand to.
They had other things in common too. Both of them were workaholics. They were busy people investing most of their time and energy into building up their prospective businesses. The pair had come to a mutual agreement to compensate for all the long hours they worked. They'd agreed that they’d take time out, at least once a week, and spend an evening together.
“Sounds good, if there’s anything decent on,” Maggie replied.
“Not sure, but it’s a multiplex so there’s bound to be lots on. I thought we'd go for dinner afterward,” he suggested. “Of course, Cooper will have to stay home.”
“Aww, you hear that Mr Cooper,” Maggie called over to her dog. “You’ve been pushed aside.”
“I mean there’s no point in him sitting in the car. If we go to dinner, we’ll be longer than usual,” Jack attempted to explain, as if he’d insulted Cooper.
“I know what you mean,” Maggie chuckled. “Anyway, these days he prefers to stay at home when I’m out on an evening. He’s getting old and set in his ways.”
“When do you want to go then?” Jack asked because Maggie had a terrible habit of setting a date and then cancelling on him.
“Hmm… let me think about it. Can’t we eat at yours this week? It’s your turn to cook,” she said. “Or mine, if you prefer?”
“So, no cinema then?” he asked, with disappointment in his voice. “Since I took my cooking course, you’re taking too much advantage of me,” he added.
“No… I’m sure it’s your turn. Oh! Hang on a minute... I need to speak with someone,” Maggie said as she spotted Mrs Walker passing by her car, waving at her. “Can I offer you a lift home, Mrs Walker?” she called out, rolling her car window down.
“No, no,” the old lady said, waving Maggie away. “These old pins of mine need their exercise. You get on with your day, Maggie,” she insisted, hobbling past the car.
“Oh, she’s so sweet. It’s old Mrs Walker," Maggie said, returning to her phone. "She's toddling around in this drab weather, would you believe? That reminds me, I’ll have to be off. I need to go and check on Mr Lewis.”
“Doing your usual community rounds, I see,” Jack said, knowing full well they both liked to help out with the oldies in town. He had many elderly customers, and always gave them discounts.
“Mr Lewis is the old guy who lives in the house nearest the brewery,” Maggie explained. “I’ve been walking his dog for him lately because he had an accident and hurt his back. Trouble is, I haven’t managed to get to him for a few days because I was so busy organising the launch.”
“Look, I still think we should go to the cinema this afternoon,” Jack insisted. “If we don’t do it, we never will. You can go see Mr Lewis tomorrow. I’m coming to pick you up in an hour, that gives you plenty of time to get ready. Then, we’re going out for a meal.”
“Ohh... I love it when you’re so assertive,” Maggie laughed over the phone. “Okay then, let’s throw caution to the wind and go do it now. You’re right, if we don’t force it upon ourselves, it’ll never happen.”
“You’re willing then?” Jack said, surprised at Maggie agreeing.
“Yup, come and get me in an hour,” she replied, glad he'd talked her into it because she enjoyed spending time with Jack. “I need to call into work to drop off this parcel, then, I promise, I’ll head straight home and get ready for our afternoon out. We can go see that Lord of the Rings film. I’m not sure which one it is, but I do enjoy them.”
“At last, we have ourselves a proper date,” Jack declared. “See you in an hour. We’ll catch an early showing and I’ll book a table for seven in a restaurant nearby.”
“You are a bully, Jack Revere, forcing my hand, but I love you for it. See you in an hour.”
After swinging by the brewery, Maggie was soon heading home looking forward to a date with the most handsome man in Gosdown. She felt a slight pang of guilt as she passed Mr Lewis’s house, which was in complete darkness. Maggie had hoped to take his dog out today, but she wouldn’t have time now, she didn’t want to miss out on her date. She promised herself she’d make an extra effort tomorrow.
“Sorry, Mr Cooper,” she said, sympathising with her dog as she watched him through the rear-view mirror of the car. “You’re not invited on this one. Instead, you can have a quiet peaceful slumber and I’ll be back before you know it.”
Cooper gave out a little whine at the sound of Maggie’s voice. Though it was true that these days he was getting quite fond of lazing in his bed.
Jack was a man of his word. An hour later he was pulling up outside Maggie’s cottage, and he honked his horn to let her know he'd arrived. She was ready for him and said her goodbyes to Cooper, who by now was definitely sulking.
Dashing outside, Maggie clambered into Jack’s car, giving him a light kiss on the cheek in greeting. Maggie Hopps led a very busy life, but she could always find time for Jack. They drove off together to enjoy a few hours in the city of Canterbury.
Maggie was the last one to leave the brewery because she was rostered for the lock-up duty. All senior staff took their turn at the opening and locking up duties, including Maggie.
On this day, she’d been working with her lab technician in the morning. They'd been ‘force testing’ for the optimal temperature of a recent batch of a stout beer on tap. In the afternoon she'd welcomed a renowned Cicerone professional who wanted to test her various beers and ales. He represented a large company of specialist bars, so she’d hoped to impress him.
It had paid off. He’d shown a great interest in a variety of her specialist ales and placed an initial order. It was her hope that his company would become regular customers in the future.
The microbrewery ran like clockwork. That meant that Maggie no longer needed to work in the brewery every day, but it didn’t mean that she wasn’t working. She laboured relentlessly over new recipes. It was also her responsibility to ensure that everything ran with the smooth precision expected of a successful business.
As the microbrewery had grown, she had taken on more employees. Other people were now doing the tasks that she’d done herself in the beginning. It was all very exciting for the company.
She could now boast that she had a Packaging Operator to oversee the bottling and canning process. Anna, who'd started out part-time, was now a full-time Customer Coordinator. It also meant that she took care of staffing the new bar at the front-of-house. All the original staff were now promoted, and the brewery had also taken on more Distillery Operatives.
What had started off as a hobby of homebrewing in her parent’s garage, was now a fully functional microbrewery. She’d come a long way in the two years since the rather rocky start of her business.
Sitting in the office at the end of a long hard day, Maggie rubbed at her tired eyes. They felt sore after working on the desktop computer for too long. Her part-time accountant used the computer in the morning, so Maggie had waited until she’d gone home for the day.
After her meeting with the Cicerone professional, she’d attempt to do some catching up. First, she'd answer business emails, then she'd go on to do some research on new ingredients and suppliers.
It wasn’t unusual for the brewery to run long shifts during the night when large orders were due, but not tonight. Right now, she was the only one left in the building. A building filled with echoes and creaks as the fermenting tanks often made peculiar noises.
Maggie switched off the computer. It was time to go walk around the brewery and check that all was as it should be. Cooper jumped up from his cosy bed in the corner of the office. He dutifully shadowed his owner as she did her lock-up routine.
Often, when she was alone in the brewery, she’d remember the tragic death of the cousin she’d never known. A cousin whose dead body had been found in one of her empty fermenting tanks on their first day of business.
It had been a tragic story and one that had caused a temporary estrangement from her parents. Finding out that her mother had a half-sister that she’d kept secret had left Maggie feeling distrustful of her parents. They had their reasons for not sharing the skeletons in their cupboard, but still, it had upset her for a long time.
That was now in the past, and when she'd finished up at the brewery, that's where she was heading. Her parents were expecting her for dinner, so she’d better get a move on.
A big factor in their reconciliation had been her best friend, Naomi. She’d helped her see how fortunate she was to have such caring parents. Poor Naomi had lost her father to cancer, and her mum suffered from various illnesses as her diabetes worsened.
Yes, Maggie was lucky to have healthy parents. Over the years of her life, they'd more than proved their love for her. It was their utter devotion to her that was part of the reason for her anger at them. They’d always been so open and supportive of her. To find out that they'd kept a family secret from her had been a huge shock.
As it turned out, the aunt she’d never known wasn’t a very nice person by most accounts. Her son, Maggie’s cousin, had been murdered as a consequence of his own dishonesty. Thank goodness that the tale was now two years old and all in the past. Though, that didn’t mean she didn’t think about him. The memory of his death was often brought to mind when she was alone in the brewery.
“C’mon, Mr Cooper, we’re done here,” she called out to her dog. “Let’s go lock up the bar.”
The bar was a new part of her ever-growing business. It was a modern bar, selling only their own products. They opened their doors every day, as the brewery functioned seven days a week. But it wasn’t busy enough to open every evening, so they only opened on weekend evenings.
Pulling down the shutters situated outside on the bar windows and doors, she heard a male voice call out her name. Turning around, she spotted a man smiling over at her from the inside of a small van. It was Tommy, the local butcher, finishing off for the day and on his way home too.
“Hi, Tommy, hey, can I ask you a question?” she said to him as she approached the open car window.
“Fire away,” he replied, his ruddy red face smiling back at her.
“Do you ever deliver to that house at the end over there,” she asked, pointing towards Mr Lewis’s home.
“You mean the old guy?” Tommy asked. “I never used to, but I’m nipping in every other week at the moment. I deliver his usual order that he used to pick up himself. The poor old guy can’t get into the shop anymore since his nasty fall down those steep stairs. Happened about a month ago.”
“I’ve been trying to help out by walking his dog, but I’ve not had a chance to do it lately.” Maggie felt a pang of guilt, she'd meant to get over there today, but had been so busy in the brewery. “Are they both okay, do you know?”
“Ah, you mean Bugsy,” Tommy smiled. “Well, he’s been letting him out in the yard at the back. Trouble is he doesn’t clean up the dog’s mess so it stinks a bit back there.”
“Oh, no. I’ll have to go round there tomorrow. I’ll go with some rubber gloves and help clear up the dog mess. I’d not realised the full extent of his situation, thanks for that info Tommy.”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate any help he can get," Tommy said. "Don’t worry about it too much, he doesn’t even notice the smell. It's his neighbours who are starting to complain."
“Yes, there's an old couple next door, isn’t it?” Maggie asked. “I must make the effort to get to know the residents in those old houses.”
“Most of them have been there all their lives. That’s why they didn’t want to sell up when that big developer tried to build the shopping complex here. I tell you what though, a lot of the townsfolk are glad it never happened. I doubt the residents in those houses would ever have left their homes.”
“I’m pleased it never happened too,” Maggie nodded her agreement. “Okay, Tommy, thanks. See you later,” she said, stepping away from the van.
“I’ll be in at the weekend," Tommy called after her. "The missus is loving your new bar on a Saturday night.”
Maggie smiled her appreciation and waved at the butcher as he drove away. She looked over at the row of old terraced houses that ran down Hopewell Lane on one side of the street. The buildings on the other side had once been busy shops. Some had opened back up again, but quite a few were being renovated into flats.
The shops on Hopewell Lane had historically been craft shops. It was a long cobbled lane where many crafters had opened up. A huge property developer had bought them all out, in the hope of building a shopping complex a few years ago. Thankfully, that had fallen through, and the local council had bought up the buildings.
The whole event had been a tale of controversy. The tragic murder of her cousin had been tied into it too. Who’d have thought that a small town like Gosdown could contain such tales of mystery? Yet, in the last two years, there had been several homicides in the town.
“We’ll go see him tomorrow, Mr Cooper,” Maggie said to her dog, promising herself that she’d make more of an effort to help the old guy out. “For now, we need to get a move on with this lock-up. Mum’s going to give us a real telling off if we’re late and ruin her dinner.”
Within half an hour, the brewery was finally locked down for the night. Maggie was soon pulling out of the car park at the rear of the old building. Cooper had settled himself in the back of her VW Beetle car as she drove down Hopewell Lane. They were heading in the direction of her parent’s house.
At the end of most days, Maggie climbed into her bed exhausted and slept like a very tired baby. At least tonight she didn’t have to cook, though she would be expected to make the effort at small talk. That task would be easy though, as it was only with her parents.
On the drive, she hummed a tune to herself as she recalled the great afternoon she'd had with Jack at the cinema. Tonight though, it was time to socialise with her parents. They wouldn’t make her laugh as Jack did. She should invite him round to her parents’ some time, it would cheer them up. Whenever his image popped into her head, she smiled to herself. He was a good man, and one that she hoped would be a lifetime friend.
“‘C’mon Mr Cooper," Maggie called out to her dog as she grabbed the keys to the car. "Let's go and pick up your walking buddy, little Bugsy.”
Maggie had set off from home a little earlier that morning, to give her time to check in on Mr Lewis. She was going to make an extra effort to do any shopping he might need. Plus, ask him about any extra help he could get from the NHS, given the condition of his health. By rights, he should have a Home Help for his basic needs. She would also look into getting him a cleaner too.
She parked up her blue Beetle in the rear car park at the microbrewery. Getting Cooper out of the back, she headed in the direction of the row of old houses at the front of her business.
Hopewell Lane was still a cobbled road, for the most part. It all added to the quaint charm of Gosdown. There were many such side streets around Gosdown that still had these historical cobbled roads. Whenever repairs were needed, they were treated with the respect they deserved.
Approaching the end house, from a long row of red brick terraced buildings, there were no garden areas to the front. The doors went straight onto the pavement. The houses were more like cottages, typical of other smaller houses that had been built in the towns of Kent. Many were weavers’ cottages from the cloth industries of old.
Maggie was standing on the pavement, about to reach up and knock on the door, when Cooper started to growl.
“Come here boy, let’s get you on your lead,” Maggie said, wondering why his hackles were up on his back. She patted his head to calm him, puzzled as to why he’d become so grouchy. “It’s okay, Mr Cooper, we’re collecting Bugsy, you know him. You chase each other around on your walks together,” she reassured him.
As Maggie knocked on the door, her dog continued to growl deep in his throat. It was so unlike him, but she pushed it to the back of her mind and ignored him. Her knocking had not gained any response from Mr Lewis, which was also unusual. After a lifetime of work, she knew him to be an early riser. Plus, he now slept downstairs ever since his fall on the narrow steps.
Lifting up the letterbox, Maggie shouted his name. “Mr Lewis, it’s Maggie. I’ve come to take Bugsy for a walk, are you awake?”
Her eyes peered into the dim hallway through the letterbox, to try and see any movement. Her mind played tricks as she wondered why he wasn't answering. Had he fallen again and couldn’t respond? Was he lying unconscious on the floor? Moving over to the front room window, she tapped on the glass. If he was in the living room that should wake him up. Yet, all was still and quiet.
“We’re not leaving until I know he’s all right,” Maggie said to herself. Cupping her hands around her eyes, she pressed her face to the glass to try and see through the window. There appeared to be a curtain blocking her view.
“It’s no good, I can’t see anything with that curtain in the way,” she mumbled to herself.
For a moment she stood in front of Mr Lewis’s house, debating on what to do next. Given his propensity for falling, she couldn’t leave until she knew he wasn’t lying on the floor waiting for help.
Remembering that he’d once mentioned to her where he kept a spare key, she had an idea. Once, she’d taken Bugsy on a long run, and he’d said if he fell asleep and the latch was down, she could use that to get in. Now, where was it he said he’d hidden it?
It was something to do with a loose brick somewhere. She couldn’t get into the backyard without going through the house, so it couldn’t be in there. These houses were built with old bricks so it must be somewhere on this outer wall at the front.
Maggie stood back to observe the outer wall of the house, but she knew it wouldn’t be too obvious. Looking down at where the house met with the pavement, she worked her way along the length, peering at ground level. Cooper started to tug at his lead again, almost as if he wanted to go and not bother collecting his pal Bugsy today.
“Stop that, Mr Cooper, I need to concentrate, I’m looking for something that’s well hidden.”
At last, she spotted a row of looser bricks right on the baseline of the house. Bending down, she rocked them with her fingertips, but she couldn’t get any to budge much. At the end of the row, a half-brick rocked a little easier than the others. Yes, it came away, and there lay a small silver key.
With a sense of satisfaction, she took the key in her fingers and returned the half brick so it didn’t look out of place. It was a silly place to hide a key, right in front of the house. Mind you, she would never have guessed it was there if Mr Lewis hadn’t mentioned it. Nonetheless, she thought she’d look into arranging something better for him.
Popping the key into the keyhole, she turned it and opened the door, shouting, “It’s Maggie, Mr Lewis, from the brewery!”
She couldn’t enter the house because Cooper was pulling her arm back with his lead.
“Mr Cooper, whatever’s the matter with you today?” she admonished him. “You like Mr Lewis and his dog, why are you behaving like this?”
Pulling him firmly towards her, she pushed the front door open and went to step inside the house. Yet, something caused her to pause, with one foot in the small hallway and one still on the street. She was unsure. For some reason, she had a bad feeling in her belly. Something was definitely amiss, and it caused her to shiver as if the house was an ice block. Many of these older houses didn’t have central heating so that was something else she might be able to help him with.
Though it wasn’t the cold that bothered her, it was more a sixth sense that was ringing alarm bells in her head. Something wasn’t right and she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out what it was.
“Mr Lewis, are you there?” she called through the closed living room door. The last thing she wanted to do was barge in if he was asleep. “I’m here to pick Bugsy up, remember?”
Still no answer, so she started to push on the door, but only slowly. Best to give him time to realise that someone was entering his room.
“I’m coming in, Mr Lewis. It’s only me, Maggie Hopps from over at the microbrewery,” Maggie called out in advance of entering.
The room was in complete darkness, with the curtains still drawn. That was why she couldn’t see through the window. As she entered, her eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting of the darkened room.
“Mr Cooper, stop tugging on your lead, will you?” she repeated to her dog as he continued to growl and pull.
In the end, she unfastened him from his lead and let him go. She needed to focus on helping Mr Lewis. No doubt Cooper would go off and find Bugsy so they could greet one another.
Turning around, she glanced into the room, still struggling to see anything in the pitch-black darkness. She fumbled for a light switch but couldn’t find one. Heading towards the window, she decided to open the curtains to see better. As she walked towards the window, something banged against her shoulder. As it did so, a little squeal of shock escaped her throat.
“Get a grip, Maggie!” she admonished herself. “Since when have you been afraid of the dark?” But it wasn’t the dark or the cold that sent shivers down her spine. It was the room itself; an oppressive atmosphere permeated it.
Maggie finally made it to the window and pulled back the heavy drapes to allow the light to flood into the room. Behind her, Cooper remained in the hallway, barking furiously. Maggie turned around to shush him, but before she could say a word, a ghastly sight lay in front of her.
Now, she knew exactly what had brushed her shoulder in the dark. In the middle of the room, Mr Lewis was hanging from the ceiling. It was obvious, even to the inexperienced onlooker, that he was dead.
Oh God, no! Why?
This Mystery is a part of Maggie Hopps Cozy Mysteries Series!
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