Sorting through my letters, I located an interesting invitation.
‘To the honourable Michael Stevens Esquire. Gerta and Frank Milne invite you to the wedding of Samantha Anne and Thomas Albert.
Directions enclosed RSVP.’
The instructions indicated that I was to board a coach and taken to the venue where we will provide further information. Intrigued I decided to accept and confirm attendance as it coincided with a spare day besides I was between books, perhaps I could pick up an idea for a story.
On the appointed day, donning suitable attire and girding myself for the fray. I proceeded to the street where a coach was waiting, climbing aboard I became aware that several of the passengers were familiar being fellow writers whom I had met at seminars. I took a seat beside Keith Symes who I had known for years, I asked, 'Well this is strange, any idea as to where we are going?'
'Not as yet but once we are there, perhaps we will know,' Keith said.
'Here’s hoping. I see that you have brought some reading material,' Holding up my book then patted my bag, 'I have even some nibbles in case it drags on.'
Keith indicated his supplies and agreed, 'Be prepared.'
So we settled in the tour after picking up another couple of passengers wound our way out of the city and into the country, I knew the area as being Pitt Street farmer properties and had used them in a couple of my mysteries. The buses arrived in the Sackville area proceeding down Tezzana drive until they slowed to enter an open gate. As we entered an elaborate driveway, we were following another two coaches and turned towards the rear buildings.
A guide approached and requested that we disembark and assemble on an extensive forecourt; it was a poor welcome for an ‘honourable’ but easier to follow directions than protest. From the frowns among my colleagues they were of a like mind, but practically speaking we were stuck until we reboarded the coach on which we had arrived. There were a few quiet ‘ba bas’ which evinced chuckles, but soon we were formed into several gaggles waiting for directions. The other two groups, I would classify those to the left musicians and by costume folk dancers; on the right, I would guess a church congregation.
'Would the parties please follow me?' An officious woman announced and stalked off without checking that any had followed.
We looked at each other, shook our heads to suggest asking ‘she for real?’ but started moving after her. The guides motioned us to our seats within a large barn, otherwise bare except for a large TV screen showing an empty chapel.
Each seat had our name attached, so we guessed that was where we were to sit; luckily Keith had been assigned the adjacent seat. So we sat expectantly for the entertainment and with no further instructions, started talking among ourselves to find that yes, my observations were correct our companions were writers, musicians, dancers and a church choir. Well, it wasn't long before the groups became restless and started rehearsing their pastime, for the writers this meant picking up our books and reading. However, the musicians, dancers and singers became just a little loud as they competed for space.
So next thing we know the door flies open, Ms Bossy storms in and demands. 'Can we have silence here the guests are about to arrive.' While initially, this worked as the concept was stunning, it was only for a few seconds before protests and questions began flying, the common theme being ‘just who the hell do you think we are, peasants to be ordered around?’ Reinstating the noise.
So drawing a deep breath, 'No indeed you are also guests and are most welcome, as the bridal group departs I would like you to farewell the newly weds appropriately and if the writers would be so kind as to write a few words about the ceremony it would be appreciated.'
So I commented sotto voce, 'Perhaps a murder mystery. We have a good candidate for the victim and three bus-loads of potential suspects.' This assessment cracked the writers up as it was an ‘IN’ joke, and after a few seconds, the rest laughed as well as they caught what I had said.
The steam nearly came from her ears as she turned red and fumed, 'Could you please be quiet.'
'You can either load us back on the buses drinks and food in hand or calm down and treat us with respect otherwise, the choir perhaps excepted, life may become very uncomfortable.' I quietly proposed.
'Just who are you to say that?' She demanded.
I made a big show of reading my seat label and announced, 'The Honourable Michael Stevens Esquire, Best Sellers list. However, you could introduce yourself?'
A gruff voice from outside the door announced, 'Madam Cynthia Thwaites who thinks she runs more than the household,' This coming from a mature man leading a horse past the open doorway; adding when the forenamed Cynthia spun around, 'And not my boss.'
'Madam Thwaites, would you care to explain our role and exactly what you like us to do, it would be relevant to note that those present represent a segment of society of highly qualified individuals, I recognise several people holding senior positions in management and academic pursuits. I modestly hold a PhD as do at least half of my fellow writers,' I said.
'I can have my driver here in a few minutes if your answer is not to my liking,' Stated one gentleman from among the choir, 'While entertaining so far, I am a busy man.' A few others nodded in agreement.
'Ladies and gentlemen, if you would be patient, please watch the ceremony after which there will be refreshments provided then if you would be so kind as to follow your guides and farewell the bridal party as they leave it would be much appreciated.'
'Depending on the refreshments, we shall see,' Several people answered with the balance nodding with an agreement.
'Thank you I will ensure that you have the best,' Cynthia assured them then scurried out chastened, perhaps to swap the tea, cucumber sandwiches and iced vo-vos for something a little more appropriate.
'I hope the ‘Real Guests’ aren’t cut short with their wedding breakfast,' I said to Keith, noticing a caterer’s van speed off, confirming my suspicions.
The scene on the TV changed to the entry, and several limousines paraded to deposit their passengers, there were several exclamations as these were acquaintances.
The man who had the car announced as he used his phone, 'That tears it, that’s one of my junior managers, he can’t see me here, or I will never live it down.' Then on the phone, 'Thomas, bring the car, time to go.'
Then to the audience, 'If anyone wishes to go, I have three spare seats?'
A couple of his friends took him up on the offer while the others who had nodded held up fingers to indicate spare seats. Altogether 20 fellow guests departed via the trade entrance as the cars arrived to pick them up. Some of these cars exceeded the quality of the ‘Real guest’ cars.
'What do you reckon, worth staying? I am becoming peckish besides I didn’t see anyone who may embarrass me.' I said, and Keith smiled as did those who heard me.
'I will be careful not to plagiarise, but yes it has me thinking of a story line,' Keith grinned.
Cynthia walked in and noted the empty seats with dismay asking, 'Where have they gone?'
'It seems that you didn't check the guest list correctly, and the people who departed were embarrassed when they saw guests they knew,' I supplied.
Cynthia wailed, 'But there won’t be enough.'
'Well you were warned, the first to go was the Managing Director of the biggest company in the city, perhaps one of your guests will be trembling in his boots come Monday,' I said enjoying her discomfiture, 'Did you order by the gross?'
Then I pointed to what was happening on the monitor screen, 'I believe that the bride’s entourage is arriving.'
Cynthia squeaked and ran off.
'That was entertaining,' I laughed, 'Let’s settle in and watch the show.'
The main event went off as usual then the wedding party adjoined to their reception room; while the attendant ushered us to the adjoining room and a reasonable table, this proved suitable, so no other ‘peasants’ departed.
As the boring speeches neared completion, a furore broke out in the background, and the staff started running around like chooks with their heads cut off.
'Something is up; this may turn into an entertaining day after all,' Then louder, "Please note I was here with you at all times.' I then asked, 'Any police officers among us?'
By a show of hands, we had two off-duty constables.
'While it may spoil my plot, would you be so kind as to advise us to avoid unpleasant interviews?' I asked.
'OK if everyone resumes their seats, Dave Owens will stay with you, and I will see what the excitement is. I am Senior Constable Ray Brown from the Police Department,' Ray advised then departed with badge displayed.
After an interminable time, Dave’s phone rang, and he listened for a moment. He announced, 'Good thing we all have an alibi, your favourite madam has met with an accident.' Then stated, 'So we had better make this official; so if you would come over to this table one at a time and I will start taking statements perhaps starting with you Dr Stevens.'
So I walked over and sat down gave my particulars, provided the information that I hadn’t seen Ms Thwaites after she ran out, all people now present had not left the room up till the commotion. During the interviews, it was evident that all statements were substantially the same if from slightly different perspectives. By the time Dave had reached half the list the first police vehicles had arrived to be met by Constable Brown and brought up to date with the situation having established an area, several uniforms arrived at our room, and they took over from Dave.
After a while, Detective Sergeant Ron James entered to see how this part was progressing, spotting Keith and myself he came over and asked, 'Ah now we know where the strife started, what are you doing here Mike, Keith?'
'We are part of the guest crowd,' I supplied showing him our invitations, 'I can vouch for this entire group, as can Constable Brown and Constable Owens. Perhaps you can tell me what has happened?'
'Follow me over here,' Walking off out of earshot of our crowd, 'Since you know most of what happened perhaps you can cast a fresh eye on what I have found so far while it not official; it would seem that person or persons unknown has killed Cynthia Thwaites.'
'While we are waiting for the forensic boys to wrap up preliminary analysis a view from a distance is available,' Detective James said as he ushered them over to the crime scene.
Between the tapes could be seen a huddled form with people in white contamination suits flashing cameras and minutely examining the area.
As they were surveying the scene, Inspector Taylor arrived and approached to find the status of the investigation.
'You know Professors Stevens and Symes? The injury is consistent with a blunt force trauma to the back of the head by a person or persons unknown. The crew has discovered no weapon, the doctor after a preliminary examination suggests that a club probably caused the trauma.'
'With all the high society in attendance, the investigation will require accuracy and speed,' The Inspector stated, 'Brown and Owens secured the scene and began processing witnesses, I have given them a well done; preserved possible loss of evidence.'
The forensic people waved to indicate that they had completed the preliminary work, and we were permitted to approach.
'Not much here, no weapons in the area, blunt force trauma to the back of head little blood splatter, no apparent movement of the body after blow,' The team leader reported.
Inspector Taylor waved the two writers over as he bent down to inspect the deceased. 'Seems to have been hit then collapsed forward into a kneeling position then rolled to the side,' Taylor said pointing at abrasions on the face.
I asked, 'Mind if we look around, a fresh eye may spot something?'
'Anyone else would be told to sit and wait, however as you know the rules, touch nothing and if you do see something call the photographers to take shots,' Taylor said.
'Thanks, I will ask a couple of questions of possible witnesses,' I acknowledged, 'Coming, Keith?'
'Lead on McDuff,' Keith replied.
The pair wandered in a zig-zag pattern leading away from the victim towards the stables on the way Keith spotted a red spot and called the forensic man over to mark and photograph.
'There’s another, perhaps this is a clue we will follow it to see if it is relevant,' I said as we walked parallel to the visible blood trail.
As they went, Keith dropped markers that the photographer had supplied on each spot.
As they neared the end of the trail, they observed the man who had commented before to identify Cynthia. He looked agitated as he backtracked to find out what was happening.
'Would you speak with us?' I asked, 'Mike Stevens and Keith Symes.' Indicating my companion.
'Bert Thompson, what’s happened?' Bert asked.
'There has been an accident,' I informed then asked, 'Where have you been for the last thirty minutes?'
'Calming Golden Dream after Ms Thwaites spooked her,' Bert answered, 'She yelled at me to move the horse away from the party. Goldie shied then took off with me hanging onto her bridle.'
'Would you mind us having a look at her?' I asked.
'Well if there is nothing I can help with here, I still need to check on her myself. Who was hurt?' Bert asked.
'Ms Thwaites, fatal I am afraid,' Keith answered.
'That’s a shame; while she is a pain at times, it brightens the day up to stir her,' Bert shook his head in disbelief, 'Come this way Goldie is in her stall.'
They retraced Bert’s tracks back to the stables, and there was the horse that they had seen earlier.
As they approached the stall, it was easy to see that she was still agitated and unsettled.
Approaching the door, I observed that Goldie was favouring her left hind leg. 'Bert, did you notice her hoof?' I asked.
'Geez no I didn’t,' Bert said concerned and moved to enter the stall.
'I am sorry you had better not do that; someone official should examine her hoof first,' I suggested then asked, 'Is there a veterinarian close by?'
'I believe our vet is a guest at the reception,' Bert advised, 'Doctor Griffith.'
'Stay here with Keith while I fetch him,' I suggested before moving back to the reception and the investigators.
Arriving back at the victim site, I spoke to Inspector Taylor and apprised him of the find. 'While it will need confirmation I believe I may have found a potential suspect. We will need Dr Griffith the local veterinary surgeon to accompany us as there is a horse that needs an expert opinion as to how it sustained an injury,' I advised, 'The blood trail I was following led to the horse stall.'
'Thank you, Serjeant could you locate Dr Griffith for us and bring him over to the stables,' Taylor ordered, 'So you think this may have something to do with the case?'
'I believe that you should eliminate this as a possibility, Ms Thwaites spooked the horse which then shied and took off, the mare now has a sore rear hoof. Bert Thompson was too busy hanging on to see what happened behind,' I informed him, 'I don’t have an accurate time frame.'
The group returned to the stable with Detective Sergeant James with another man in tow presumably the vet.
Arriving at the stall, I pointed out the horse and the rear hoof that it was favouring. 'That rear hoof is tender I have advised Bert to hang back from checking it until it was officially examined, in this case, Dr Griffiths would be the best examiner as he is the regular consultant for Goldie.'
The vet arrived and entered the stall calming the horse while he examined the hoof having completed his examination he exited the stall and came up to speak to the inspector.
'At my first observation, it would seem that Goldie has hit something with her hoof and bruised the frog incurring a small cut which shouldn't take much to remedy,' The vet advised, 'Possibly kicked something, she tends to do that if startled.'
'I will call the photographer over to take some shots then you may treat the injury,' Taylor stated.
The photographer took the pictures, and another officer collected the evidence, after which Dr Griffith and Bert tended to Goldie.
'Unofficial of course but I believe this may be the solution for an unfortunate accident. But further determination should be left to the coroner.' I considered.
'Indeed, unless my team turns something else I may accept that being the case, well thanks for your time I will be in touch if a formal statement is required,' Taylor agreed.
With the interviews complete, the attendants brought the bus; the ‘crowd’ was assembled then returned to their original pick-up points. Arriving at my spot, as I alighted and farewelled Keith, 'Well that was certainly entertaining, I will have to write something a little different as the most likely culprit is not believable for a story.'
'Yes that’s true, but we can dream up a more interesting red herring to entrance the reader; I will write a draft, and we can compare notes to eliminate duplication,' Keith replied, 'I will see you later.'
I walked inside musing over an entertaining day well spent even the lunch had been worth the day out, topped off with ideas for a story line.
Later next week I rang Keith to see how he was doing with his story.
'How is it going I have the outline, and the first chapter roughed out?' I asked.
'You're just a little bit ahead of me, but I am feeling that it is progressing along just nicely,' Keith reported, 'By the way, Ron phoned and dropped the hint that we were on the money.'
'Yeah rang me as well, probably the best thanks we will get,' I confirmed, 'However I also had the hint that we just happen to be close he may call for a fresh eye if something is in the offing.'
'See you at the club later, and we can compare notes as to where we are going, so we don't duplicate and have to redo something,' Keith suggested.
'Sounds like a plan, I will see you around five, must be your turn to shout tea,' I advised him.
'You're on, see you then,' Keith replied.
Arriving I settled in to wait for Keith; I didn't have to wait long, and he walked in and took a seat next to me.
Shaking my hand asked, 'How are you going, I am fine myself?'
'Fine so how's your story going, let's just swap drafts and see?' I suggested.
We did this, and I found that he was following a different story entirely, and there was no duplication,
'Hey if we just throw them together we would have a real bell ringer,' I suggested,'Though better not. No copies here agree?'
'Yep, I like your treatment. I agree we are writing something different,' Keith said.
'So what do you think will happen next?' I asked.
'From Ron, not much at the moment and I guess we won't be on the next invite list for a crowd,' Keith said.
'There is a Seminar next week so if nothing else happens, see you then,' I farewelled.
'Okay sounds like a plan, see you then,' Keith agreed.
The week rolled past with no dramas, at Uni giving lectures on forensic pathology, apart from that attending a couple of meetings and progressing the story line. I had settled back into a routine when the phone rang, and it was Ron.
'Michael, are you available I have a curly one for you,' Ron asked.
'Certainly where and when?' I confirmed.
'Newtown there has been a home invasion, assault, and alleged abduction,' Ron advised and gave the address, '102 Taylor Street I am there at the moment.'
'Should only take me about ten minutes. Okay if I pick up Keith on the way?' I said. 'He could give an extra eye.'
'While he is quiet, what he does say is solid,' Ron said, 'Yes see you then,' Ron hung up.
I rang Keith and said I would pick him up as he was on the way. After a short drive, pulling up in front of his house I found him waiting. Climbing in, he asked, 'What's afoot?'
"Home invasion and abduction," I said, "A bit sketchy so far, Ron will be waiting."
Parking the car as close as I could and we stepped out and located Ron. He waved us past the constable and started to outline the situation.
"Last night neighbours reported that a disturbance was happening at this address. Once the first police attended it was clear that something had happened, the door was broken down, and the interior was substantially disturbed, "Ron said, "After interviewing these neighbours it was found that the house held a woman and her children."
'Any idea as to who is responsible?' I asked.
'The obvious suspect is her estranged husband, have been arguments concerning the children, and there is currently an Apprehended Violence Order,' Ron advised, 'At the moment we are tracking him down and see if he has answers.'