This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 865 words.
Over his choice of a continental breakfast that morning, Jon resolved to approach Eloise Parker-Hill directly, and ask her outright if she had written the letter. He had spent too much time already, and he knew it was true that had it not been for the idea of writing a new Inspector Johnson novel, he would have given up and gone home after speaking to Amelia.
The house was reasonably impressive. An in and out driveway, and a large double-fronted ninteen-thirties house in very good decorative order. The sign outside on the wall surprised him. Cliff House B&B. Ensuite single and double rooms available. Roderick had failed to mention that his sister owned a bed and breakfast establishment. Immediately, he wondered if he should employ some subterfuge. Ask to book a room there, transfer from his hotel, and then be able to observe the woman at first hand. It was tempting, but would waste more time.
So he drove the Volvo into the driveway, got out with his shoulder bag, and pressed the doorbell.
She was nothing like he had expected, given the mother and brother, Closer to fifty than forty, so probably an older sister, she was nonetheless strikingly beautiful. More like a film star, than a boarding house owner. If he had been attracted to women, he would most certainly been attracted to her. Her voice was husky too. As Alan, one of his straight friends in Brighton, would have said, “She’s the full package, Jonny boy”.
“Where you looking for a room? I do have a double available at ninety pounds, including breakfast”. Straight down to business. He explained that he had been directed to her by her brother, and wanted to ask her about a mysterious letter. Her smile was wide, and revealed delicious dimples in her cheeks. “Roddy sent you? A mysterious letter? Do come in and tell me all”.
Eloise showed him along a hallway to a large extended kitchen at the back of the house. There were four tables at the back, next to wide glass doors looking out over a lanscaped garden. She told him to sit at one, offering coffee. Bringing the sylish green Apilco cups and saucers to the table, she sat opposite, then tapped the table top with her hand. “Come on, don’t leave me in suspense”. He explained about his visit to Amelia, and then to Roderick. Sliding out the plastic sleeve, he showed her the front of the letter, and asked if she had sent it.
“Oh what fun! A real mystery indeed. What did it say inside, may I ask?” He hadn’t told anyone about the one word inside so far, but Eloise was rather charming, as well as being open and friendly. He told her that it just said HELP, and the flap was bloodstained.
She leaned forward, her eyelashes flapping slowly, and what seemed to be a yard of plump cleavage on display under a thin cerise blouse. “So you decided to be a hero, and investigate. Well done you. Perhaps you should base yourself here? I could do with the business, to be perfectly frank”. Leaning back, she crossed her legs slowly and deliberately, showing more thigh than was socially acceptable.
Jon thought to himself that she was the second member of that family who failed to realise he was gay.
“But to answer your question, I didn’t send it. Do I look as if I need help? More coffee?” He watched her walking away, trying to imagine what Inspector Johnson would think of her. His famous character was a straight man, and he had been seduced by more than one woman in the series of stories featuring him. One had been a barrister acting for the defence, and another the distraught wife of a murder victim who later turned out to be the killer. He would not have hesitated to have fallen for the charms of Eloise.
But with Sergeant Chen around, that might have proved tricky indeed.
Bringing the coffee refills, Eloise had a suggestion. “I think you should go to see my mother again. She has used that stationery for as long as I can remember, certainly all of my adult life. Roddy hated it, and I have no use for it. I have my own headed notepaper for the business, and I never send personal letters since they invented email and text messages. No point you booking in here, I think you have to go back to Aldenham and tackle the old dragon. Her bark is worse than her bite, don’t let her scare you off”.
After finishing the coffee, Jon thanked her for her hospitality, and her helpful suggestion. But the two coffees had gone through quickly, and he had to ask if he could use her lavatory.
“Of course. Top of the stairs, second door on the left. The rooms are all en-suite now, but at one time that was the only bathroom”. When he had finished and washed his hands, he walked back out onto the first floor landing. It was dominated by an impressive bookcase, in period walnut suiting the thirties style.
And it contained every book he had ever written.