Enjoy an extract . . .
The Bookshop Detective
Eleanor returns to Combemouth Manor in the hope of discovering more about the contents of a secret cupboard from the house's owner.
Extract from Chapter 25 The briefcase
When she rang the bell, there was no answer so she walked around to the kitchen door, peeking in through the dusty windows as she went.
The door was unlocked so she opened it and called out. “Hello. Is there anybody there?” There was no response so she yanked on the bell pull and listened to the clank of bells echoing through the house. Still nothing. She was beginning to worry about the lack of response when eventually she heard the skittering of paws as Clarence ran across the flagstones of the hallway and began barking in excitement. Having greeted Eleanor, the dog turned and ran away. Bella took off after him towards a different part of the house.
The dogs led Eleanor to a large sitting room where she found Joshua at his desk surrounded by all kinds of writing paraphernalia from fountain pens and bottles of ink, to piles of yellowed envelopes, rock-hard erasers and heaps of paperclips whose primary colours looked out of place among the Victoriana. In the centre of it, Joshua had made a space now filled by the red briefcase they had taken from the safe the day before.
“Morning missus.” Joshua turned to greet her, waving the grey handkerchief he’d been using to wipe grime from the closed lid of the case. He stuffed the handkerchief inside his shirt then withdrew a side drawer from the Victorian writing desk and picked up a cardboard shoebox full of keys.
Eleanor smiled. “Have you found the key to the briefcase?”
“Perhaps. I’ve found lots of keys, but none of them is right so now I’ll have to try the rest.” He cradled one hand in the other. “Trouble is, I can’t hold them properly, what with my arthritis.”
“Could I help?” Without waiting for a reply, Eleanor threw her handbag onto a maroon Chesterfield and took the box from him.
“Not them, they don’t work.” He pointed at another, bigger box. “Try that lot.” “Okay,” said Eleanor, pulling up a seat while Joshua moved away from the desk so she could reach the case. “Let me see now.” She bent over and fit the first key into the case. Nothing. She tried a second then added it to the ‘doesn’t work’ pile.
“I’m thinking that Father might have hidden the key somewhere more cunning,” said Joshua, thoughfully rubbing his stubble.
Eleanor looked across at him. “I think a box of keys is about as cunning as you can get. But I’m sure it must be here – it’s simply a matter of being thorough.” She tried two more with no luck. Sighing, she picked up the box and jiggled it around then closed her eyes and circled her fingers over it. “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,” she said, before selecting a key at random and inserting it into the lock. “I have a good feeling about this one,” she said with a grin. It was nonsense, but she wanted to keep Joshua’s spirits up.
Joshua was mumbling something about ‘hocus, pocus’ as Eleanor turned the key and the lock snapped open. “Ta-dah! There you are you see – a little bit of magic always does the trick.” She knotted a piece of string around the briefcase key so it would be easy to identify and handed it to Joshua. “There you go.” She smiled at Joshua, who sat in silence. “So . . . shall I open up the case for you before I carry on with the books?”
“No.” Joshua stood and opened the French doors that gave onto the garden at the back of the house. “I’d best see to the broad beans and you should carry on with what you came here to do.” He had been relatively jovial up to that point, so Eleanor was suprised by the sudden change in his tone.
“Right, okay then,” she said, standing. Eleanor couldn’t help feeling disappointed that her curiosity wasn’t going to be satisfied, especially as she’d been the one to discover the secret compartment in the first place. “Are you sure you don’t you want to see what’s inside the briefcase?” she asked as Joshua shuffled past her into the garden.
Joshua paused, his eyes fixed on a lavender bush by his feet. “There’s no need to open it. I know perfectly well what I shall find in there.”