This is the prologue and opening papers of The Conchenta Conundrum - a murder mystery set on England's south coast - and elsewhere. But how many murders are there and how easy is it to detect such a crime when no-one wants to talk.... This is #1 in the Boyd detective series...
When she died on an island in the middle of an ocean, only her family cared. When she was taken from her people, only they noticed. When she had gone from the world she loved, it was too late to ask the question: Why?
Only her closest family knew she had died. Only her mother held her at the time of death. Only her mother knew the answer to why her daughter, Alicia Andorinha, died on a lonely island in the Atlantic.
But a tall white lady, with rings on her fingers and flowers in her hair, arrived on the island and asked, ‘How? Why? And when did the pretty Alicia Andorinha die?
It was a dilemma of some magnitude originating on a tiny island a hundred nautical miles from the mainland.
The tall white lady, with rings on her fingers and flowers in her hair, wondered how many others had died, or might die in the next six months.
She called it the Conchenta Conundrum…
~ ~ ~
Dateline: Six Months Later,
Wednesday, Crillsea Cliffs:
Strolling in the garden one morning he had an idea. He remembered the traditions spoken of earlier, acknowledged their power, and developed and refined his evil notion. Then he took a walk in nearby woods and privately confirmed his intentions. He could not help but notice the wood was carpeted with a mass of foliage and wild flowers. There were so many, you see. Oh, so many. And so many different colours caught his eye. He returned to the house and thought it all out, planned it to perfection, and then picked lavender and white crocuses from the garden border because it seemed the easiest and most convenient thing to do. They were the dying blooms of spring and they were withered, wrinkled, and past their best, but he knew what powers lay dormant inside the plant.
Selecting a twelve years old bottle of his finest scotch, he broke the seal and poured himself a good two fingers before taking a substantial mouthful. The liquid hit the back of his throat in a rush but gently slid into his stomach. Carefully, he pulled leaves away from the corm and placed them in a wooden pestle. Taking a mortar he ground his dry crocus leaves until they were virtually dust. Then he added more crocus leaves and eagerly ground them into a fine powder. Another drink was taken and another two fingers were poured.
As spring died summer was born and an early bout of sunshine invaded the coastline. He invited her to his lair intending to finalise matters once and for all. He swept the patio and tidied the area for the episode he planned, and then prepared clean towels and chilled wine for their lunchtime swim.
He was frolicking in the pool when she arrived and he leapt from the water to welcome her and hold her close; deviant soul that he was.
‘I’m glad you could make it,’ he said enthusiastically.
‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,’ she replied with a smile.
They swam together and bathed in the sunshine before relaxing on loungers he thoughtfully angled towards the sun. Caringly, he carefully massaged her neck and back and trickled his fingers down her spine and said, ‘You like?’
She giggled in gleeful delight. It was as if they were such good friends, maybe even lovers.
Later, laughing and smiling, he donned his Japanese silk kimono and strutted along the patio to a barbecue and a chilled drinks cabinet.
‘Time for drinks and a snack,’ he announced happily.
‘Fabulous,’ she replied.
Striking a match, he lit the barbecue. He tossed a salad, reached inside the wooden drinks cabinet, and withdrew a bottle of rosé wine. He uncorked the bottle, poured a sample, and sprinkled his lethal mixture into her glass.
Offering the glass, he said, ‘A premier drink for a premier lady.’
She accepted, laughed, and sparkled in delight as she drank in the ample softness of her wine.
Returning her laughter, he smiled and waited for her to die as he casually barbecued slices of chicken and prepared a salad. But she did not die. She did not even feel any discomfort, at first.
Eventually, as the sun rose in the sky and rays began to burn into her skin, she developed an unquenchable thirst due to an irritable tingling smarting in her gullet.
‘Another drink please,’ she asked in a concerned manner. ‘I’m so thirsty with this heat. My throat is on fire.’
He obliged and she gratefully accepted another glass of chilled wine. But the time approached and he needed courage locked inside a bottle of scotch. Another two fingers were poured and drank in one and the half empty whisky bottle was unsteadily placed on the table.
The coldness of her rosé wine seemed to have no influence because she cried out anxiously for another drink that might kill the prickly itch in her throat. He chuckled deviously as he tried to hide the alcoholic state surely affecting his mind, remarked jovially on the fickleness of the English weather, and then poured her more wine.
‘God, my throat is on fire now,’ she said. And the worry in her voice became anxious and questioning. ‘Is that just wine?’ She queried.
Fear invaded her mind when she persisted, ‘You didn’t lace it with a dash or two of vodka, did you? Or was it cocaine? I hope not.’
He dismissed her remark instantly. ‘Of course not, don’t worry; I’m sure the sensation will soon pass.’
She drank quickly and clumsily hoping things would improve and her craving would subside. She asked again for a cold drink and said, ‘I wonder if I might have swallowed an insect, perhaps a tiny wasp or a fly, because the burning sensation is still there, and it’s getting worse.’
Laughing at her ridiculous suggestion, he said, ‘Don’t be silly.’ Yet he took time to note her condition. It was, indeed, slowly deteriorating.
The heat of the poison burnt steadily into her, scorched her gullet, scalded her insides, and drove her to despair. When the mixture finally delivered a climax of pain she could bear it no longer.
‘Oh no,’ she uttered apprehensively, and then retched uncontrollably at the fiery sensation within her. Gradually, her heart gathered pace and beat faster. Her blood pressure was going through the roof and her lungs ultimately felt as if they would explode.
Draining her glass in desperation, she placed it on the table before her. It was then she saw a fine pinkish white residue covering the bowl of her glass.
She looked directly into his eyes and accused him, ‘You, you bastard, you’ve...’ Realising what he had done, she made a grasp for the empty glass as if by somehow snatching the evidence into her possession things would improve.
With a slight of his hand her glass fell to the patio and exploded into innumerable pieces.
She tried to scream but could not. Her throat was on fire when she slowly crawled to the pool and scooped water into her. She opened her mouth but could not scream, could not even raise her voice to cry for help. Her hands cupped the pool water and threw the liquid into her mouth. Almost immediately she could feel the benefit of the cold water. She began to gurgle, began to reboot her voice box, and began to utter a painful forced scream.
The man realised something had gone terribly wrong with his murderous plan. He blamed her, of course. Her and those expensive reference books and well-thumbed paperbacks he’d scoured through. He was pretty sure he’d read them from cover to cover and knew the content inside out. The reality was he hadn’t read and understood them properly, and a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.
The man waited patiently, like the printed word said. Repeatedly, he checked the time and watched her slowly wither away. She suffered retching and stomach pain but she did not die.
By then, she’d worked it all out and knew what he was doing. She accused him, ‘You’re trying to poison me; you’re trying to kill me; you’re trying to dispose of me forever with your poisoned wine... You bastard, you rotten lousy...’
She scooped more water from the pool and tried to escape, retched again, and tried to scream for help.
He checked the time and realised she was improving.
‘Oh dear,’ he said laughing. ‘This isn’t quite working the way I had planned but not to worry. Come with me, my dearest one.’ Seizing her hair, he pulled her away from the water.
‘Ouch! Oy!’ she complained. She kicked out, struggling.
Dragging her like an old rag doll destined for a bonfire, he threw her onto her knees on the patio. She was exhausted. He watched her try to crawl from his presence. She gasped for breath and clutched her throat.
‘You swine,’ she gurgled fearfully.
Sniggering, he disappeared from her sight.
It was her chance to escape. She tried frantically to crawl away, to lift herself to her knees and slither to a place of safety.
Casually, but deliberately, he took a spade from the garden shed and returned to stand over her. He watched her trying to desperately slither away. He looked down upon her as she struggled to her knees for the last time.
‘No... No, please, no,’ she cried.
Smiling and laughing, he raised the spade above his head and violently beat her skull as hard as he could. He rained down two terrific blows to the back of her head and broke her skull into a dozen separate pieces. Blood showered his face, his clothes, and the patio surrounding the conspiratorial waters lapping gently against the side of the pool.
When it was over he rested for a moment. It wasn’t a pretty sight and the affects of a twelve years old scotch did have an effect upon him but he hosed all the blood, bone and brain tissue from the patio area and placed her body inside a green plastic suit holder.
Dragging her to the garage, he bundled the corpse into the boot of his car then burnt his silk kimono and swimming shorts on the barbecue. Almost frantic in his desire to escape, he threw the spade back into the garden shed. Hastily, he gathered up her belongings: her handbag, sunhat, and bits and pieces, and threw them onto the barbecue. The man added more charcoal and stirred the contents of the tray until flames grew and enveloped all. Checking the area, he realised it was time to go and made for the garage.
Firing the car engine, he selected a gear, and drove off. Driving through a maze of leafy country lanes, he criss-crossed the green meadows and pastures of the surrounding area. Then the car began to climb and he eventually reached a place where only the sea visited the cliffs and few walked the lonely coastal path. The locals called this wild desolate place, ‘No Man’s Cliff’.
In summer, ‘No Man’s Cliff’ boasted a spectacular panoramic view and was often visited by dog walkers, courting couples, and people looking for solitude. Yet it was such a wild and unforgiving place when the winter elements snarled at Crillsea’s headland.
He pulled in and set the handbrake tight. Clumsily, he dragged the package from his car boot. Straining with the exertion of it all, he rested a moment, regretted the foolish fingers of courage he had found necessary to embrace, and with a mighty heave, threw her into the ocean.
Without remorse, he watched the green plastic suit holder gradually sink through the waves. Concerned things had not gone to plan and the scotch had been a stupid accessory in his plan, he looked out to sea and scolded himself for his ineptitude.
The tide smashed into the cliffs and withdrew. The tide roared and crashed into the cliffs again but left no traces of a lady who had been poisoned but did not die from ingesting an ordinary crocus diluted in a glass of chilled rosé wine.
With his back to the sea, he guided the car through the leafy lanes. It was as if someone had at last lifted a great weight from his shoulders when he slid his foot heavily onto the accelerator pedal and made good speed towards the house.
His mind soon wandered to a patio that needed checking. Had he washed the area thoroughly? Had the fire in the barbecue burnt out his kimono and swim shorts? Had he cleaned the spade with which he had pummelled her skull into a dozen little pieces? Had he... He did not see the big red two-litre tractor emerge from the meadow and lumber casually into the lane.
There was a rush of adrenaline and a squeal of tyres when he heaved onto the brakes and swung the steering wheel fiercely to his right. There was an almighty crunch of metal and a cloud of dust when the front of his car collided with the rear offside of a farmer’s tractor and a rusting red mudguard crumpled to the ground.
Stunned! He was stunned for a moment but quickly jumped from the car and ran towards the farmer and his tractor.
With a hurried smile a hand was clasped and a head and face were checked for injury. No injury was found and reluctant smiles were forcibly exchanged. There was a quick inspection of a front bumper and a rear mudguard followed by a quick examination of debris and skid marks on the road; and there was recognition of how things might have been worse.
Then there were recriminations.
‘It was your fault,’ alleged the car driver. ‘You didn’t stop. You just drove straight out of the field onto the road.’
‘No, lad,’ retaliated the elderly farmer standing his ground. ‘You were driving too fast. You are at fault, lad.’
‘Too fast!’ snapped the car driver. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you are a typical tractor driver. No respect for anyone. You think you own the road, don’t you?’
‘You were at fault, lad,’ argued the farmer. ‘You been drinking?’
The farmer leaned closer to smell a whiff of alcohol on the car driver’s breath. He stroked his chin then shook his head in disgust.
Suddenly, there seemed to be a cold nip in the air which burnt into the car driver’s skin and kindled his mind.
‘Drinking?’ queried the driver innocently. ‘Of course not; look, there’s no need to bother the police. It’s only a rusty old mudguard.’
‘Rusty?’ challenged the tractor driver, annoyed at such a suggestion. ‘It’ll still cost money. Rusty or not, it’ll cost money to replace.’
Wisdom of a kind intruded and the car driver responded, ‘Yes, yes, of course; perhaps this would help.’ Digging deep into his wallet, he produced a wad of banknotes.
The farmer sniffed again, sensed an odour of alcohol, stroked his chin again, and hinted, ‘Do you think that will be enough, lad? Mudguards for agricultural tractors aren’t cheap, you know, and I’ll need to go to the dealer at Tevington for this.’
‘Well, of course. I understand; how silly of me.’ His hand delved into his wallet again and more notes were delivered.
‘That should do it, lad,’ reacted the farmer with a smile.
‘And we’ll settle on that, shall we? No police, I mean.’
‘Aye, we’ll settle on that, lad,’ replied the farmer. ‘No need to be bothering the police when it’s all sorted, lad.’
Cash changed hands and a big red two-litre agricultural tractor straightened in the lane. A car reversed and then slowly edged passed the tractor. There was a wave and a pip of a car horn and he was gone.
The farmer watched the car disappearing down the lane and examined his brand new banknotes. They were fresh, crinkly, new, and unfamiliar to a man with soil on his hands. He lifted his head again and allowed his eyes to zero into the disappearing vehicle.
Stepping up gingerly to his tractor cabin, he found a biro pen and his magazine stuffed into the side pocket. The car turned left at the end of the lane and moved out of sight as the farmer wrote the car registration number down on the front of the ‘Farmer’s Weekly’.`
‘Funny money is it?’ queried the farmer aloud. ‘Well, I suppose I had a good day on the fields today.’
Tommy Watson, farmer of Crillsea Farm Estates, patted the side of his tractor, brushed away debris from the ground with his foot, and fired up the engine. Not a bad day’s work, he thought, preparing to return to his farm. Not a bad day at all. Smiling, he crumpled the bank notes into his fist, pocketed them, and made for home.