She had always been a rule-breaker, but not destructively, it was just she was ridiculously inquisitive. A thin, deeply veined hand gripped the bedside table. For Ada Brown rising unaided from her bed, was not without its challenges, but she was determined and had become adept at rolling onto her side, and pushing up with her skinny arms, this allowed her legs to fall off the edge of the divan. Sometimes she landed in a heap on the floor, but usually, she steadied herself. Sleep was a scarce commodity, so to relieve the boredom of endless wakeful hours, she’d taken to nocturnal exploring.
The room was dark, but not pitch black. To avoid using the main light, Ada reached for the torch in the top drawer of her bedside cabinet, placed there in readiness for such night-time forays. Slowly and a little unsteadily, at first, she forced her gnarled feet into a pair of sheepskin slippers; she shuffled to the bedroom door, where her quilted navy dressing gown was hanging. Shivering slightly, she was glad of its instant comfort. She paused for a moment, took a breath, and then turned the large, round brass handle; the heavy wooden door opened outwards, just enough to let the warm light of the corridor invade. She peered out; it was all clear. A smile spread across her lined face; with a racing heart, she began her journey.
“To the library, I think.” She set off, a little less stiffly now, only when she reached the top of the stairs did she come to a standstill. A slight tilt of the head confirmed it was safe to continue; at least her ears had not failed her in old age. The constant sound of‘bleeping’ medical equipment on the second floor was the only noise she could detect. It was a long, sweeping stone staircase. She took hold of the handrail and descended slowly. At the bottom, she turned right, then left, into a vast hallway; its high ceiling gave a sense of space, its pale marble floor hard underfoot. She stopped, then entered an immense room, her favourite, in the elegant Georgian house. Guided by torchlight, she went to the biography section. Here she reached into her dressing gown to retrieve a small, worn, brown book; she placed it back on the shelf. Several minutes later, she’d selected another title to devour. She concluded it was most satisfying to break the library rules and borrow a book on her own terms. Then, one of her father’s lengthy lectures as a child came to mind, the one where he’d informed her that rules were ‘for the obedience of fools and the guidance of the wise.’ To this day, she wasn’t completely sure whether he was telling her she was a foolish child or a wise child, but as the years passed, she was pretty sure it was the former.
Next stop, the kitchen, also on the ground floor but at the rear of the house, it had been striking in its day, a large square room with a high ceiling and stone floor. A series of other rooms led off it, the original larders, storage rooms, dairy, wine cellar and scullery. She headed to the old scullery, head chef, Mr Aubert’s room. It was his haven from the main kitchen, a place to plan menus and try out new recipes. It was also warm for a log burner heated the room. Mr Aubert was a jolly, portly, fifty-something man originally from the Loire Valley, a man of good humour and a talented chef. She found the tray easily in the torchlight. What a kind man he was, they had never conversed about her night-time visits; indeed, she wasn’t even sure if he knew it was her. But he had clearly noticed someone was in the habit of helping themselves to a cup of cocoa at night. So, he had taken to leaving a tray for the visitor containing a selection of delicacies, usually home-made biscuits, and aslice of cake. She sat in an old leather armchair with her feet up on the warm log burner and sipped the sweet chocolatey liquid between bites of a crumbly biscuit. She thought about how resistant she’d been at first to the idea of coming to live at Fairview House, and how initially she’d only agreed to a trial stay, and yet, here she was five years on. It hadn’t taken her long to realise this place was a lifesaver.
Footsteps approached, Ada placed her cup back on the tray and got to her feet. The steps were closer now, why, she wondered, did she feel apprehensive? After all, this was her home, she could go where she liked, and she had implied permission to be in Mr Aubert’s room. Perhaps it was their urgency? She looked around in the torchlight for somewhere close by to hide, for hasty movement was out of the question at her age.
There was a crack in the broom cupboard, Ada put her eye to it, the door to the scullery opened, two shadowy figures entered, but only just inside the door. They were animated, arguing perhaps, but frustratingly, they spoke in whispers. With her heart pounding, she took a deep breath, as hard as she strained, she could not make out what was being said, other than a couple of words, “You fool,” and something that sounded like “detain.” Then one of the two, who Ada had the feeling was a man, walked towards the sink area and appeared to drop something into the bin. Ada waited a few minutes, until all was quiet, before emerging from her hiding place. She made straight for the sink and, placing a foot on the bin peddle, she flipped the lid open. She shone her torch into its depths, at first, there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary, but as she leant in closer, something caught her eye. She lifted a piece of tissue with her fingertips, lying beneath it a capped hypodermic needle and an empty vial. Now she was suspicious, why dispose of these items in a kitchen bin and not in a proper sharps bin? And what was in the vial? It was impossible to read the label in the torchlight, she would have to be patient. If her age had taught her anything, it was there’s a time and a place for asking questions. In the meantime, however, she used a piece of kitchen towel to lift the syringe and then the vial into one of Mr Aubert’s paper cake bags she found lying on the worktop. She slid the bag into the pocket of her dressing gown. Back in her bedroom, she could see the vial had contained Fentanyl. A quick search on her laptop revealed it to be a strong opioid painkiller, used to treat severe pain and usually administered either in tablet form, as a nasal spray or a patch, but it could be injected too, although apparently this mainly occurred in hospital settings. With her curiosity aroused, she transferred the cake bag and its contents to an empty shoebox and placed it in her wardrobe.
“Good morning lazy bones,” said Linda, Ada’s cheerful carer as she placed a cup of tea beside her. Linda was a large lady, Ada guessed, in her early thirties, she was unmarried but living with a fella, a builder by trade. She had a striking face, luminescent skin, and long, curly brunette hair worn in a ponytail.
“If only you knew the half of it,” said Ada laughing.
“I like what you’ve done with your hair!” Said Linda laughing as she passed Ada a mirror. As Ada surveyed her image, she giggled at her dishevelled white hair.
“Is madam breakfasting this morning in her room or the garden room downstairs?”
“Oh, in my room today, Linda, I can’t be doing with Mrs Mortimer’s daily pessimistic weather forecasts! They are always so depressing.” Ada winked at Linda, who did not immediately reply, a shadow of a frown crossed her face.
“I’m really sorry to say Mrs Mortimer was found deceased this morning, Ada.”
Ada sat bolt upright in her bed. “What? Really? But there was nothing wrong with her? It makes little sense.”
“I know, it’s a shock, as you can imagine Matron and Mrs Pritchard are deep in conversation. There will be an internal enquiry and rumour has it a post-mortem.”
“Well, I’m truly sorry to hear of her passing, when do they think she died?”
“The GP has estimated in the early hours of this morning, between midnight and three.”
As Ada savoured her soft-boiled egg, she thought about her recent encounter in the old scullery and realised this had occurred around two. She could not help wondering if the items she'd found in the kitchen bin had something to do with Mrs Mortimer’s death. She told herself not to jump to conclusions, a post-mortem would determine the cause of death and no doubt conclude natural causes. Perhaps a heart attack or a brain aneurysm? But she determined to hold on to the items just in case.
A couple of days later, Ada was in the main entrance hall with an assortment of five or six other residents and carers noisily donning wellington boots, hats, gloves, and coats. There was an air of excitement, a sense of anticipation and much banter until the manager of Fairview, Mrs Rita Pritchard, appeared hands on hips, her usual stance.
“Ada Brown, what may I ask is all this noise? What’s going on?”
“Madam, we are about to venture into the grounds to meet our new chickens.” Said Major George Moore grinning widely from his wheelchair.
“What chickens? I don’t know anything about chickens, would someone care to explain?”
“It’s a long story, Rita,” said deputy manager Sharon Jones, who was leaning on the door frame to her office, an amused look on her face. Sharon was smartly dressed in a navy and white striped trouser suit. She was probably in her early forties with short dark brown hair and the most engaging smile. Ada liked Sharon very much indeed, she had empathy and worked hard to ensure all the residents were treated with dignity and kindness. She would be the perfect manager if it were not for old sour puss Pritchard.
Rita Pritchard, Ada estimated, was in her mid-to-late fifties, stick-thin, with dyed blonde hair scraped into a tight bun. She had a sallow complexion and pinched features and spoke with a heavy Glaswegian accent.
“You knew about this Sharon?”
“I did, I assumed you did as well, Mr Hinchcliffe and head gardener, Ted Smith, are all for it. As the owner, Mr Hinchcliffe has paid for the walkways to be built and for the chicken coop and run. I’m told Chef Mr Aubert is particularly excited about the eggs.” Said Sharon.
“Madam, would you care to join us?” Asked Major Moore as he twirled the ends of his impressive moustache between his fingers.
“I would not, thank you anyway, George. Ada, I’m presuming this was your idea?” Said Rita, not managing disguise her disdain.
“Well, yes, it was, what could be better? Fresh air, fresh eggs, and a willing workforce to look after them.”
“Ada, Ada, I suppose I should not be in the least surprised. You are so ....”
“Energetic, enthusiastic, kind, such fun.” Interrupted Major Moore as he winked at Ada.
“Well, yes, all those things and so much more,” said Mrs Pritchard, rolling her eyes as she watched the group walk down the hallway towards the back door. Ada and the Major led the way.
“Please don’t bring any mud or chicken muck back into the house.” She shouted after them. Ada turned and waved.
The following evening Ada organised a whist drive in the south lounge, the largest of three sitting rooms. It was a well-attended and raucous affair, with several residents consuming more sherry than was perhaps good for them, as well as cocktail sausages and bite-sized pork pie pieces provided by the kitchen. At the end of the evening, several residents required helping to their rooms. The most notable of whom was Maude Berry, who insisted on belting out the same line of ‘Big Spender’ over and over. “The minute you walked in the joint, I could see you were a man of distinction...” This was directed at Major Moore, who was popular with the ladies. He chuckled his way through each rendition, with what Ada considered to be increasing enthusiasm for each painful execution of the song.
The following morning Ada was summonsed to Rita Pritchard’s office.“Ada, take a seat, will you?” Rita peered at her over the top of her glasses.
Ada did as requested but took her time. Meanwhile, Rita fiddled with a pile of papers on her desk.
“I’m looking at last night’s incident reports and they make quite colourful reading.” “Ah yes, last night’s whist drive was a great success, so well attended,” Ada replied.
“That maybe so, but to say it wasn’t without incident is an understatement.”
“Come on, Rita, get to the point. What’s the problem with everyone letting their hair down a bit?” asked Ada.
“Oh Ada, Ada, if it were only that I would be content, but I’ve had reports of drunken behaviour!”
“Hardly, I will admit one or two of the residents became a little loud but, it was all extremely good-natured.”
“And what about Maude Berry singing ‘Big Spender’ at the top of her voice and subsequently throwing up in one of our lovely art deco indoor planters?”
“I’d definitely put that down to an overconsumption of cocktail sausages,” said Ada with just a hint of a smile.
“This is not funny Ada, I have a duty of care to every one of you. I put it to you she was drunk!”
“I assure you that’s most unlikely for she’s teetotal, has been for forty years. I’d put money on it being down to the excitement of the occasion and an overindulgence of the nibbles myself.” Ada folded her arms across her body.
“Very well, as it appears you are the residents' appointed co-ordinator of activities, I must insist you give me prior notice of all planned events and, should I feel any are unsafe or inappropriate, I will veto them. Do you understand?”
“Perfectly, Rita, perfectly.”
“Good, well thank you Ada and good morning to you.”
During the following three weeks, Ada organised many activities for her fellow residents, she however disguised their true nature to ensure Rita Pritchard allowed them to go ahead. Line dancing became 'movement and music for the over seventies’, the cheese and wine evening, a lecture on British cheeses, the murder mystery evening, a book club session in the library. And thus, life carried on as before without interference.
Detective Sergeant Harriet Lacey wondered how many times in her career she had boxed up the contents of her desk at the end of an inquiry. Operation Juliet had been a tough case, originally viewed as a double murder, perhaps a domestic gone wrong, it soon spiralled into a complex number of killings linked by DNA. For it transpired one victim and two of the killers were triplets. One offender, Joe Wilson, remained at large. Harriet did not doubt they would catch him in the future based on her view he was a sociopath with heightened traits of self-importance. She figured he could not stay in the background. He needed to be noticed. The burning question, however, was when would he re-surface? Harriet’s mobile sprang into life, she glanced at the screen; it was Detective Chief Superintendent Derek Wynn. Harriet had worked with Derek for several years. He was calm, good-looking, and kind. A gentleman and skilled detective to boot. There had been a time early on when she’d wondered if they might have a future together, but then her life changed, and she changed.
“Afternoon, Harriet, I apologise for the short notice, but I need you for a sensitive inquiry. There’s been a death at a Fairview Residential Home; it’s caused quite a stir. The deceased, a Major George Moore, has died unexpectedly. Yesterday, he had a full private medical and was determined to be in rude health. It now appears there are rumours of other unexplained deaths at Fairview, as well as other incidents of concern. I don’t need to tell you how delicately we are going to have to tread, and I have the gut feeling it will be a complex case. I’ll explain all when I see you; shall we say three in my office?”
What Harriet wondered was what Derek Wynn was alluding to; her interest sparked.
407 AD - The Forest of Dean Gloucestershire:
The hunter kept low, stepping lightly on the forest floor, pausing every so often to listen for movement, surveying their prey as they crept towards it. Placing one knee on the ground, they stealthily reached for an arrow, which they placed across the centre of the bow. Staring down the length of the shaft, they pulled back the bowstring, releasing the arrow into the misty morning air. Amid the Silence, a thud. The hunter ran towards their kill, a magnificent red deer.
Odell punched the air in triumph before turning and running back to the clearing where her father’s horse waited patiently. Untying the old grey, she led him on. Although small in stature, she was strong, wiry, and agile. Deftly, she trussed up the deer carcass with rope made from nettle fibre, straining with the effort, she heaved it onto the sledge at the rear of the horse, and tied it to the structure next to the rest of her bounty, four rabbits and a basket of forest mushrooms.
On the journey back to the settlement, Odell picked chestnuts from the forest floor. Their savagely sharp outer husks jabbed into her...