AFTERNOON TEA WITH ALICE
Dulcie waited outside the coffee shop, looking carefully at the array of cakes in the window, deciding if she really wanted to break her diet today or not.
A musical voice broke through her reverie, calling her name. She turned, smiling, and hugged her friend tightly. ‘Oh Alice!’ she exclaimed. ‘I am SO pleased to see you.’
Alice slipped her arm through Dulcie’s and led her into the cafe. ‘Let’s go to our usual table and you can tell me all whilst we partake of tea and cake!’ she trilled. Pulling out a chair she half pushed Dulcie into it, grabbing her friends bag and placing it on the floor beside them.
The serving girl, Wendy, brought over a tray of tea, knowing exactly what they wanted, and then pushed up a tray of small cakes and cake slices. Chocolate cake sat next to large pieces of Victoria Sponge. Liberally sugar coated cupcakes vied for attention with lemon candy topped tarts.
Dulcie waved them away, stomach still churning at the previous days events, but Alice chose two of the doughnuts, filled with homemade jam and freshly churned cream and placed one in front of her, ‘Have to keep the strength up!’ She laughed and winked at Wendy.
Once the girl had left them, her smile turned downwards and she leaned in towards Dulcie. ‘Well? Was it positively awful?’
Dulcie sighed and stabbed a fork into the doughnut, shivering as she did so. ‘Positively’ She grimaced. Then popped a small dollop of cream into her mouth. The cream tempted her taste buds and she started to eat in earnest. She thought fleetingly of her diet and mentally waved the thought away again.
She told Alice all about the music and finding Gerald. She told her about the police officers visit and, when she had finished, she picked up her teacup and took a long drink.
‘He was only with us the other week’, said Alice, thoughtfully. ‘He came up for a chat. Very strange as he had never done that before. We had tea on the verandah and chatted about the hall, then he suddenly got up and darted off!’
The two ladies sat in silence for awhile mulling over the murder in their minds. Neither of them had a clue what it could have been over he was such a docile old man.
When they finished their tea they both stood up and started to leave waving at Wendy. she gave a smile from the counter but didn’t come over as she was dealing with a customer.
Alice glazed over for a moment as if lost in thought and then said, ” Dulcie….. I know this is an awful cheek, and I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right at this moment, but listen. Is there any chance you could come up to the hall later? I’m having to do this dreadful summer fete, and it’s getting a little beyond me. Would you lend me a hand?”
Dulcie smiled at her friend, well this had come sooner than she’d expected, and she had expected it, knowing her old friend as she did. She had rehearsed her refusal several times and was sure she had it right so it would not upset. Instead she found herself saying, “Of course I can!”
The summer fete was a village event, taking place every year up in the halls grounds for the last 500 years, minus a few war years when the hall became an army hospital for wounded soldiers. The owner of the huge building, standing as it does looking down on the village, was always the host, leading the people of the village in a parade from the one tavern in the centre, up to the north field. Met at one time by players and jesters . Now it was bric-a-brac stalls, and hoopla, and Wendy’s homemade cakes . And poor Alice, the lady normally late for her own hairdresser appointments, was the organiser.
Dulcie sighed as she realised she would most likely end up running it but she loved her friend and nodded her head amiably as Alice chatted about this, and that, excitedly as they walked. Murder forgotten for awhile as she concentrated on the instructions being interspersed with bits of gossip.
Alice got in her Sprite, parked around the corner from the cafe, and sped off, waving a regal hand at Dulcie from out of the window as she left.
Beyond Dulcie, through the far buildings, she could see the towering hall almost looking back at her. Ever present in the villages life.
To the left of her, in the closed bookstore, full of dust and smell of old leather, lay Bob Catcher. Hand still holding the cane he’d grabbed to try to fend off his attacker. Quite dead .