Annie Parker couldn’t sleep. Used to the thrum of traffic carving its way through south London at all hours, she was having a problem settling into her new home in picturesque Anwen-by-Wye, Wales. The sixteenth-century thatched cottage overlooked the heart of the village which, at this hour, was as quiet as the graveyard of St David’s Church, just across the green. Wrestling her pillow into submission in the deafening silence, she wondered if her mother Eustelle, who was in the guest bedroom across the landing, was faring any better.
Eustelle had insisted upon coming from London to help her daughter move in, and Annie had been grateful for her company. Until about three weeks ago. Now she could hardly wait for her to leave. Which made her feel guilty.
Sighing, Annie swung herself out of bed, chastised the bedside table for being a bully when she stubbed her toe, then hobbled to the little window. Street-lamps at each of the four corners of the village green did their best to pierce the darkness, with little effect.
Four lights, four women. Annie and her three colleagues at the WISE Enquiries Agency had decamped to the ducal estate of Chellingworth in the rolling countryside of Powys to benefit from free office-space, peppercorn rents for housing and the chance for a continuing future as investigators; their income just wasn’t up to supporting them all in London any longer.
Annie opened the casement just an inch, and enjoyed the chill of the February air; her fifties were turning out to be more sweaty than she’d imagined possible.
She was the only one who’d needed convincing to make the move. Carol Hill, her friend for many years and now her colleague, had jumped at the chance. Born and raised on a Welsh farm, Carol was happily married, enjoying her thirties and blissfully pregnant. She didn’t miss her stellar career as a high-flying computing whizz in the City at all, and had nestled into the substantial Georgian house just across the village green in a matter of weeks. She was the technical genius of the agency who gathered information and passed it to the other three for them to be able to take action.
Mavis MacDonald was thriving too. She and Althea Twyst, the dowager duchess of Chellingworth – now a sort of honorary WISE Woman – were as tight as two ticks living at the Dower House together. Althea was almost eighty and used to the best of the best, whereas Mavis was a Scottish retired army nurse in her early sixties with what Annie always thought of as short arms and long pockets when it came to the agency’s finances. Despite their differences, the two women were as giggly as schoolgirls when they took their walks to Chellingworth Hall with Althea’s little Jack Russell, McFli, yapping ahead of them.
And of course Christine Wilson-Smythe had landed on her feet, snapping up the little apartment above their office in the recently converted barn, where she frequently entertained the dubious Mr. Alexander Bright. She might be the daughter of an Irish viscount, but she can’t half pick ‘em when it comes to men, thought Annie. Got her uses when it comes to contacts though, she mentally, and grudgingly, accepted.
Annie knew she was the only one flapping about like a flounder. She didn’t like the countryside; it was empty, boring and, at this time of year, ridiculously bleak. She wished she was looking out at London’s lights at that moment; it was so full of life. Bustling. Here, in the countryside, almost nothing happened. Well, okay, there’d been the theft and murder that had originally brought the WISE Women to the area . . . and she herself had been kidnapped there too. But that wasn’t usual. Not at all.
Mavis always told Annie off for using the word “gumshoeing”, but she liked it – the word, and doing it. Fat chance she’d have to do any real undercover work close to her new home; her dark skin made her instantly noticeable. Annie admitted to herself she had just finished a nice job in Cardiff where she’d gone largely unnoticed acting as a barmaid, gathering evidence for a case involving a gold-digging girlfriend. But now? She’d go to the office in the morning to see if Mavis had brought in something from any new clients. She usually had – she was good at sniffing out business. Maybe Annie would get another break from her mother, who wasn’t due to leave until after the Big Day next Saturday; at least Annie was going to be a guest at the wedding of a duke to his new duchess, which she supposed wasn’t bad for a girl born to immigrant St. Lucian parents scraping by in the East End of London.
Crawling back under the covers, having told the bedside table to not leap out and give her a thump, she heard a cockerel cry in the distance. A couple of hours and it would start – another uneventful day. At least, that’s what Annie thought . . .
The Case Of The Missing Morris Dancer is the second WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery, published by Severn House Publishers, February 2016.
All comments are welcomed.
About the author
Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, and worked in marketing communications for decades across Europe. Having migrated to Canada in 2000, she now lives in beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband (and two chocolate Labradors) ensure she’s able to write full-time. Bestselling author Ace writes two series of mystery books: the Cait Morgan Mysteries, and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. Her fourth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair, won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery.
Giveaway: Leave comment below for your chance to win a print copy of The Case Of The Missing Morris Dancer. US and Canadian entries only, please. The giveaway will end February 1, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!