This is the third part of a mystery serial.

In case you missed it, Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

Yes, this story is turning out to be more substantial than I first thought, but Part four will be along soon, and it will probably draw the tale to a close. I hope you enjoy this piece of the story, and please bear in mind that this is a first draft.

Freshly Roast Mystery – Part 3

Exeter

It was almost lunchtime, but there were few customers in The Aquifer Café when Dan strode in with Alan following somewhat reluctantly at his heels.

At the counter, the young lady flashed him a smile. “Good morning. What can I get for you?”

“Just the owner, please,” Dan said. “Deborah. If that’s her real name.”

“You want to see Deb? Er, are you a sales rep or something? Only, I can tell you that she’s not interested in—”

“No,” Dan interrupted, raising his voice. “I’m a dissatisfied customer.”

The young lady paled. “I’m sorry. I’ll…I’ll see if she’s available.” She hesitated. “Can I offer you a drink while you wait? On the house, obviously.”

“No, thank you.”

“Oh. Right. Give me a second.” The young lady hurried away, and Alan let out an exasperated sigh. “Did you have to do that?”

“What?”

“Make a fuss. None of this is the poor girl’s fault. No need to take it out on her. She’s probably a student or something, trying to earn a few quid to pay the bills.”

“With her immaculate hairstyle?” Dan asked. “No, students all look like they’ve just got out of bed…someone else’s. They have that faraway look, like they’re not sure where they’re meant to be.”

“Not in Exeter,” Alan stated. “The university seems to attract a certain type. Their jeans are artfully ripped by skilled experts in the salons of Milan.”

“Do they have salons in Milan? It’s a French word.”

Alan looked as though he was tempted to roll his eyes. “It was a joke, but never mind. She’s coming.”

Deborah breezed in, the young lady following behind and still looking worried. “Thank you, Camilla. I’ll have a chat with these gentlemen. You go back to the counter.” She flashed a warm smile at the young lady then turned a considerably cooler gaze on Dan. “Now, what can I do for you? I understand you have a complaint.”

“Not really,” Alan began, but Dan talked over him.

“Who was Cyril Kenning?”

Deb’s expression froze, but a flash of uncertainty flickered in her eyes. “Gentlemen, if you have a genuine complaint, I would be grateful if you would say so. I’m happy to refund the cost of your purchase, but I don’t have time for games. I’m a busy woman.”

“Very impressive,” Dan said. “But likewise, we don’t have time to beat around the bush. You have Cyril Kenning’s gravestone in the back of your shop, and I think you know perfectly well what it is. That raises a number of important questions, don’t you agree?” Dan pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and held it out to her. “This, as you can see, is the message we decoded from the stone slab, so apart from a few answers, we’re also entitled to the chocolate cake you promised.”

Deborah didn’t even glance at the paper. “I think you’ve made a mistake. More than one, actually. Now, if you don’t wish to order anything, I suggest that you leave quietly.” She pulled herself up to her full height, raising a hand to point at the ceiling. “We have CCTV.”

“So what?” Dan held her gaze. “We’re not the ones in the wrong here, Deborah. You were quite happy for me to look at your fake well when you thought I was just another tourist from London.”

“There’s nothing fake about our well,” Deborah shot back.

Dan chuckled. “Oh please. You must know that there’s absolutely no connection between this place and Saint Sidwell. You’re just trying to cash in on a local legend. But I don’t care about that. It’s the gravestone that concerns me.”

“I believe that I’ve made myself clear. I have nothing more to add.”

“You have to be kidding,” Dan insisted, but Deborah raised her voice and snapped, “Out. Now!”

Dan took one look at the determined set of her jaw and knew he’d get no further. “All right. If that’s the way you want it, we’ll go, but I’m not done digging yet. I’ll get to the bottom of this, with or without your help.” He turned on his heel and stalked to the exit.

Alan hurried after him, answering the hostile stares of the other customers with an apologetic smile, and once the door had slammed shut behind them, the pair set off at a brisk pace, Dan with his hands thrust deep into his coat pockets. “Damn! You do realise what this means?”

Keeping pace, Alan nodded. “Yes. It means you can’t go back there ever again No more nice coffee.”

“Exactly. I’ll have to find somewhere else. But it won’t be easy.”

“You’ll live.” They walked on in silence for a while, then Alan added, “Did you mean that—about getting to the bottom of the story?”

“Of course. You said it yourself. Once you start on a problem, you want to finish it. So…you’ll give me a hand, yes?”

Alan grinned. “My pleasure.”


Back in the village, when Dan had bumped his battered Toyota over the uneven surface of his pitted drive, Alan paused before climbing out. “Do you want to use my Internet to do some research? It’s no trouble.”

“I thought you’d never ask. Is now a good time? Do you have space in your busy schedule?”

Alan nodded. “Would you be deterred if I said no?”

“Not really. I’d have turned up anyway, but I’d have brought biscuits or something.”

“Is that what they teach you in the world of high-tech corporations? Productivity through bribery with buns?”

“Actually, yes,” Dan said. “Doughnuts are good, muffins are okay, but if you really want results, a box of cupcakes works wonders. I find you can get people to do pretty much anything if you give them a dangerously large amount of frosting.”

In Alan’s kitchen, they sat at the large pine table, Dan fidgeting while Alan set up his laptop.

“Oops. Orange light. The battery’s a bit low. I’ll just go and fetch the charger.”

“Could you log in first?” Dan asked. “I can get started while you hunt through your cables.”

Alan raised an eyebrow. “I know exactly where my charger is at all times. It’ll only take me a second to fetch it, but if you really can’t wait, my password is H, w, g, g, n, i, m, w, i, n. The first H is uppercase.”

“Interesting,” Dan murmured as he typed in the sequence. “I’d bet that win stands for windows, and the rest is probably an acronym of some sort.”

“I can neither confirm nor deny that statement,” Alan replied, keeping his expression neutral, “and any attempt to steal my identity is a complete waste of time.”

Dan looked up sharply. “Why? Is your cybersecurity bulletproof? Are you one of those paranoid people who refuse to use google? Do you spurn the pleasures of Facebook to prevent your every move from being tracked?”

“No, it’s just that I haven’t really got any secrets worth pinching. My life is…not dull exactly, but safe. Predictable. Fixed.”

“Everyone has something worth stealing,” Dan said. “Everyone.”

Alan chuckled as if Dan had made a joke, then he headed into the neighbouring room, leaving the door open.

While the ancient laptop booted up, Dan let his eyes wander around the neat room. “Nice place you have here,” he called out. “Not what I was expecting somehow, but I like it.”

Alan reappeared in the doorway, holding out a charger, its cable neatly folded against the black plastic box and neatly secured with a rubber strap. “Here it is. It was exactly where it was meant to be. And…thanks. I like it in this room. I spend most of my time in here. It gets the light all year round.” He paused. “But what did you mean about it not being what you expected?”

Dan shrugged. “Not your typical bachelor pad. No pizza boxes mouldering in dark corners. No piles of dirty crockery teetering in the sink.”

“I keep the place tidy,” Alan retorted. “I may be single, but I’m not twenty-one. This isn’t…oh, what’s that film? The one with Richard E. Grant and one of the McGanns.”

“Withnail and I.”

“Yes. That’s it. Great film.” Alan unwrapped the charger’s lead and plugged it in at the wall before sitting down and attaching the lead to the laptop. “That should do it.”

“Thanks. To work.” Dan opened a browser, then his fingers raced over the keys as he rattled through a number of search queries, his brow furrowing deeper as he rejected each set of results in favour of a fresh search. “I thought there’d be more results. Cyril Kenning isn't a particularly common name.”

“But he lived in an age when nothing was digital. There’ll be archives, but you often have to join one of the genealogy sites to get access.”

Dan grimaced. “I don’t want to get distracted by chasing down rabbit holes. We just need some reference to his war record.”

“Pass me the message,” Alan said, and when Dan pulled the sheet of paper from his coat pocket, Alan laid it flat on the table, reading the words they’d decoded from the dark stone slab:

In memory of Cyril Kenning a beloved brother taken too soon by the folly of a senseless war.

“We assume it has to be the First World War,” Alan began, “but could it have been another conflict? The Boer War? The Crimean?”

Dan pursed his lips. “Let me check. We’re guessing that he was born at around the turn of the century. So, no, the Boer War happened at around the time Cyril came into the world. And the Crimean was even earlier. Let’s stick with the Great War. He would’ve been around eighteen when it finished, so he could easily have been involved in the fighting, couldn’t he?”

“I would assume so. I believe that some people even lied about their age to enlist. Tragic for him to have died so young.” Alan shook his head sadly. “Try searching for roll of honour. And add the term Exeter to narrow it down. After all, if his family were local business people, he may well have joined a local regiment.”

“We don’t know for sure when the pharmacy was set up, so we can’t assume there’s a link with the area, but I’ll try it anyway.” Dan took just a second to complete the search. “I have the city’s roll of honour, but I can’t see a Kenning among them.” He scrolled back through the list of names. “My God. So many.”

“It makes you think,” Alan agreed. “There can’t have been many families who didn’t lose a loved one.”

“No sign of a Kenning though.”

Alan sighed. “I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t in poor taste. And anyway, it was all so long ago. Is it really worth dragging it all up?”

“I think so. There’s something odd about that stone slab, and it’s not just that it was in code. It doesn’t belong in that café. It’s been moved, and I want to know why.” He looked Alan in the eye. “And there’s Deborah’s sudden change in attitude. Very strange, don’t you think?”

“Not really. You did charge in like a bull at a gate. Has anyone ever told you that you tend to rub people up the wrong way?”

“Me? Certainly not. I’ll admit I can be a bit…goal oriented, but I don’t set out to offend anyone. Not usually, anyway.” Dan sat back, his gaze growing distant. “When I showed Deborah the message, she didn’t even look at it. It was as if she was denying its existence. She didn’t want to know, and yet, when we first went in, she was happy for me to take photos of the code. She even opened the gate for me.”

“She probably thought you’d post it on social media, spread the word about her café. Like you said, she thought we were tourists. She wasn’t expecting to see us again. Tourists are like sharks: they have to keep in motion, their mouths wide open, constantly consuming new experiences, or they stop enjoying themselves.”

“Do sharks have a keen sense of fun, do you think?” Dan asked. “They always look dour to me.”

“There’s no need to pick holes in every metaphor I use. You know perfectly well what I mean, and my point stands. Deborah laid it on a bit thick when we were potential punters, but when you turned up in the role of the indignant dupe, she thought she’d be better off cutting her losses and kicking us out. Which, I might add, is a pain in the neck and all your fault. It’s all right for you. You might not be sticking around, but I live here, and I would’ve liked the option of going back.”

Dan jutted his jaw. “It wasn’t entirely down to me; she was deliberately concealing something. And anyway, it wasn’t your kind of place. You want organic oolong and a chequered tablecloth, sugar tongs and china cups.”

“I resent that,” Alan snapped. “I’m not some middle-aged old duffer. I’m only in my thirties, and I’m as trendy as the next man.”

“Providing that the next man is dressed exclusively from Marks and Spencer’s autumn catalogue.” Dan raised his voice to match Alan’s strident tone, adding, “and not last autumn either, but 2017.”

The two men glared at each other for a second, but then a burst of laughter forced its way between Alan’s tight lips. “2017! This shirt was already getting frayed around the cuffs by then. It’s five years old if it’s a day.”

Dan joined in the laughter. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to…you know.”

“It’s all right. It’s been a while since I enjoyed a decent argument. That’s one thing I miss about teaching: the cut and thrust.”

“I thought you taught ten-year-olds. They can’t have presented much of challenge.”

“Don’t you believe it,” Alan replied. “Children can be fiercely attached their ideas, and they’re often reluctant to change them unless presented with concrete evidence to the contrary.” Alan paused, grinning. “Take this, for example. Two cups of ice, identical in every way. The same amount of ice in each. One cup is wrapped in a woolly jumper, the other left unwrapped. Which ice will melt first?”

“The unwrapped one, obviously. The wool will insulate the other one and protect it from the warm air in the room.”

“Ah, but to a child, a woolly jumper is something that makes them hot, so almost all of them will predict that the wrapped ice will melt first.”

Dan laughed. “I like it. There’s a little bit of logic in there. I suppose we all interpret the world according to our experiences.”

“Yes, and when it comes down to it, adults aren’t much better. Hot air rises, right?”

“Yes,” Dan said slowly. “I’d say so, even though I’m sure you’re about to trick me in some way.”

“No trick. Just a question. What provides the upward force?”

“Well, it’s the current of air. Warm air is less dense, so it sort of floats upwards.”

Alan smiled. “Almost there. But you still haven't answered my question. What force on Earth shoots things upwards into the sky? What provides this mystical upward push that you believe in so strongly?”

“I…I don’t know.” Dan frowned. “Go on then. Tell me the answer.”

“The force involved is gravity, and it works in the opposite direction, pulling things towards the centre of the Earth. The denser, cold air is pulled down more strongly than the less-dense warm air, so it descends, displacing the warm air.”

Dan’s face fell. “My God. Why have I never thought of it like that?” He shot Alan an appraising look. “There’s obviously more to teaching than I thought. Maybe you should’ve stuck to it. You obviously have the knack.”

“Ah, I loved the job but not the way of life. Too much paperwork, too much government interference. It grinds you down, gets in the way. I still miss being in a classroom, but I don’t envy today’s teachers. Good luck to them.”

“At any rate, while you were putting my brain cells through their paces, one or two things have shaken loose.” Dan paused. “Did you do that on purpose?”

Alan folded his arms. “I couldn’t possibly say. Trade secret.”

“Okay. Well, we’ve been blinkered in our efforts to find Cyril. For one thing—and I can’t believe I’d overlooked this—his family had a business in Exeter, but that doesn’t mean they lived in the city. Deborah said that her great grandfather owned several pharmacies, so the family could’ve been based elsewhere.”

“Definitely. Let’s look for the business and work back. Try searching for a pharmacist called Kenning.”

“On it.” Dan tapped the keys, and a smile lit his expression. “Got it. Gordon Kenning turned a single pharmacy into a whole chain of shops all over the country. It looks like he was a real entrepreneur, ahead of his time.”

“What about Cyril?”

Dan shook his head. “Wait. I’ll run a search on Gordon and see what we can find. Yes. Here he is. Cyril Kenning was Gordon’s older brother.”

“That must be our man. We could check the parish records or look for his grave,” Alan said. “Any mention of where he lived? Is there a town, a village?”

“Better than that.” Dan turned the laptop around to face Alan. “Behold, the ancestral home of the Kennings. Knightsbrook Hall. Built on the proceeds of the pharmacy empire.”

Alan leaned forward to study the screen, and his mouth fell open slightly. “But that’s near here. It’s just the other side of Bovey Tracey. It’s less than ten miles away. I’ve seen the signs from the main road.”

“And it’s open to the public. We could swing by tomorrow, take the guided tour.”

“Really?” Alan asked. “You want to go to that much trouble?”

“Sure. Anyway, you can’t just buy a ticket and poke around. You have to take the tour, apparently.”

Alan wrinkled his nose. “I don’t know. I do have a book I’m supposed to be working on. I’m getting behind.”

“Nonsense. The break from routine will make you work all the better when you get back to it. And look here.” He pointed to the screen. “They have an excellent restaurant for visitors. Locally sourced ingredients. Pies, it says, are their speciality.”

“Oh, well. Pies.” He patted his stomach. “When do you want to set off?”

“They don’t open until nine-thirty, so around nine?”

“Fine by me,” Alan said. “Do we have to book the tour?”

“Just doing it now. I’ll pay for the tickets, and we’ll sort the money out later.”

Alan nodded. “Fine. And I’ll drive. I know the way, and it’s down a narrow lane. You’re probably not used to our little byways.”

“If you can drive in London, you can drive anywhere.”

“Even so, we’ll take my car,” Alan said. “It’s my turn.”

I hope you enjoyed the third part of this story.

This episode will be included in my monthly anthology as an ebook along with this month's blog posts and flash fiction. The ebooks will only be available to my patrons on patreon where, for a few dollars a month, you can have instant access to all the ebooks as soon as I compile them. Also, the support of patrons will help me to keep writing and providing content for you all. Learn more when you head on over to patreon and check it out

THE COMPLETE STORY IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER UNDER ITS NEW TITLE: A STUDY IN STONE

Find A Study in Stone Here

All the best and happy reading,

Mikey C

Have a read on me -

Claim Your Free Starter Library

You'll receive a collection of ebooks via email, all free and yours to enjoy at your leisure. I hope you enjoy them.
DOWNLOAD NOW
free scifi books
close-link

Get a Free Starter Library

free scifi books
Claim Your Free Books
You can unsubscribe anytime.
close-link
Click Me
%d bloggers like this: