I woke up very late this morning.
You see, last night Nick, my next-door neighbour, treated me to a whisky up at the Wreckers, to celebrate the sale of one of his pictures (because I introduced him to his London dealer). One of the abstracts, I mean. His paintings of Cornish scenery always sell well to tourists and locals. In fact I have one on my own sitting-room wall. I must confess I don’t understand the abstracts.
When I say I woke up, I mean Teazle woke me. A yip and a wet nose in the face works every time. Her eyes were bright with desperation. When I looked at the clock, I understood why.
No question of pausing to dress. I flung on my dressing gown, stuck my feet in my slippers, and we hurried downstairs, hoping we wouldn’t meet any volunteers. I was hoping, that is. Teazle just wanted to get outside as quickly as possible.
Luckily almost all our volunteers are women. I should explain: the ground floor of my cottage is a charity shop, for the London Committee to Save the Starving. I worked for LonStar for many years, all over the world. My dear husband, Peter, also worked for LonStar, though our jobs often parted us and I was far away when he was killed in a riot in Indonesia.
The heart went out of me after that. I retired to Port Mabyn, a fishing village in our home county of Cornwall, and started the shop. Teazle, my Westie, and I live in the flat above.
I have to admit, I don’t run the shop myself. I’m not very good at numbers and business and that sort of thing, and I have only to glance at the cash register for it to malfunction. My friend Jocelyn, the vicar’s wife, is in charge. She’s terribly efficient, if a little bossy. I’m much better at wheedling donations. I trundle round the countryside in my aged Morris Minor, collecting goods to sell in the shop. People are very generous.
Oh dear, I’ve lost track of what I was telling you. My niece Megan’s boss, Detective Inspector Scumble, would say that’s nothing out of the ordinary. He’s an impatient man and gets very annoyed with me. Of course, he disapproves of my getting involved in police business to start with, but it’s not by choice. Somehow my peaceful retirement has turned out rather more exciting than I’d bargained for—
But to get back today: to let Teazle out of the back door, I have to use a passage shared by the shop volunteers. I prefer not to meet them before I’m properly dressed.
We reached the back door unseen. I’d left my keys behind, but luckily it wasn’t locked—I must have forgotten to lock it last night (don’t tell Joce!).
It was such a beautiful morning that I stepped outside to enjoy the sun and the view. While Teazle snuffled after rabbits in the bushes on the other side of the footpath that runs behind the shops, I breathed in the fresh air, scented with gorse-blossom and the tang of salt. It made me want to do my Aikido exercises, but I like to be safe from curious eyes for that. However, the view is worth savouring for its own sake. Beyond the bushes, the green slope of the headland rises to the lighthouse. On my left, the path runs down to the harbour, where small boats bob at their moorings, colours bright against the stone quay and the cliff to the south.
Behind me, I heard an ominous click. Someone had locked the door.
I crept down the path, hoping Nick would be up and in his studio. He was, thank goodness, busy at his easel. I knocked on his window.
“Eleanor, what on earth…?”
“Don’t laugh! Someone’s locked me out. I need help.”
Still grinning, he opened his back door. Teazle came scurrying. She adores Nick.
“Fair enough, you can’t show yourself in the street dressed like that. I’ll go and ask them to let you in at the back.”
“No! I’d much rather no one knew. I have a better plan. You go in at the street door—”
“Is it unlocked?”
“Oh dear, I don’t know. If not, you’ll have to go in through the shop and ask them to let you out through the stockroom into the passage.”
“They’ll want a reason. I’ll tell them you have something of mine that I need, which has the merit of being true.”
“True? What are you talking about?”
“Last night when I showed you Alarian’s letter, you absentmindedly folded it and put it away in your handbag.”
“Oh Nick, did I really? I’ll go and get it for you at once!”
“As soon as I’ve found your keys and let you in,” he retorted, quite rightly.
So that was how my day began, all rather cloak-and-daggerish. It reminded me of the plot Jocelyn—of all people—came up with to help me smuggle a young girl out of the village when the police were watching her…
You can read more about Eleanor in VALLEY OF THE SHADOW, the third book in the “Cornish” mystery series. The first book in the series is Manna From Hades.
Meet the author
Carola Dunn was born and grew up in England but has lived in the US for more decades than she cares to count, presently in Oregon. She is the author of twenty Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (set in England in the 1920s), the Cornish mysteries, and a large number of Regencies. The third Cornish mystery, THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW, comes out in December 2012.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.