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The Longboat Cove MurdersThe Longboat Cove Murders
by Marilyn Todd
Art by Allen Davis

Dan Trelawney was the first. A kindhearted, hardworking father of three, he was the landlord of The Fighting Cocks, a seventeenth-century coaching inn complete with beams, stables, and a resident ghost, who died foiling a robbery in the early hours of a bitterly cold January morning. The most popular man for miles around, practically the entire population of Longboat Cove turned out for his funeral.

Arnold Warne was next.

Arnold was everything Dan Trelawney was not. For one thing, he was seventy-four to Dan’s forty-three. He was also foulmouthed, unkempt, miserly, and bad-mannered, a man firmly of the opinion that not only did the world owe him a living, but that the world consistently welched on its debt. No one—not even his son, who’d moved as far away as humanly possible, to Brisbane, Australia—mourned Arnold’s passing.

Having said that, it was still pretty rotten luck that he’d happened to disturb a burglar ransacking his cottage during Dan’s funeral (sadly, an all too common occurrence), and fell headlong down the stairs in his rush to confront the intruder.

In fact, it was only when nineteen-year-old Jenna Kestle was killed while away on holiday that the residents of Longboat Cove began to wonder.

 

Set in the land of King Arthur, Camelot, Merlin, and magic, Longboat Cove was typically Cornish. A small, hilly peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, it boasted a harbour with stone piers on the eastern side and a sandy beach to the west, both protected by rugged black cliffs topped by swathes of sea squills, Sheep’s-bit, and tufts of pink thrift. With the surf pounding the rocks and puffins bobbing like corks on the water, Longboat Cove was just about as picturesque as it came.

A profusion of megaliths testified that settlement here stretched back to the late Stone Age, with nearby tin having been mined from around 2,000 b.c., and a port that was probably built by the Romans. The present-day town remained the same tangle of steep, cobbled streets from medieval times, many of which were way too narrow for cars. Planters and window boxes spilling geraniums, petunias, phlox, and lobelia were happy to encroach on the precious space even further.

Popular year round with tourists, bird watchers, history buffs, and walkers, the town was dominated by the solid, square-towered Church of St. Piran, and fronted by a bustle of gift shops, tearooms, and creaking inns catering for the thousands of visitors entranced by clotted-cream teas, the sound of gulls shrieking overhead, cats snoozing on what seemed like every other window sill, and ancient stonework that was virtually obscured throughout the summer by wild froths of wisteria, clematis, and rambling roses. A fragrance, incidentally, that was engaged in permanent battle with the fresh, salty sea air.

Longboat Cove’s other claim to fame—indeed its main claim to fame these days—was a vibrant artistic community, who found its traffic-free isolation almost as appealing as its sunsets and the quality of its light.

In fact, until Dan Trelawney died, life here had been good to the point of idyllic.

“Bollocks.” Ellen Pascoe slammed down her coffee cup. “What planet have you been living on?”

Tamara continued to stir her sugar—three lumps—without looking up. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, Tam, that we’ve been battered by freak storms three years running. Record tidal surges flooded the waterfront twice last month, a metre deep each time.” Ellen ticked the disasters off on her fingers. “Landslides swept away a massive section of cliff path, leaving two cottages teetering on the edge of oblivion and rendering eight more uninhabitable.” Hers included. “The post office and police station have closed thanks to government cutbacks, the Sandpiper Gallery caught fire, and if that’s not enough, we’ve seen more violence in ten days than we’ve seen in ten years. If that’s idyllic, I’d hate to see what horrible looks like.”

A broad shadow fell over the table and pulled up a chair. “What am I missing?”

“Nothing, Davey. Absolutely nothing.” Tamara selected another lump of sugar, dunked it in her coffee until the bottom half turned brown, then popped it in her mouth. “My sister’s riding her usual hobbyhorses of politics and global warming.”

“Climate change,” Ellen snapped. “And it wasn’t your home that went skidding into the sea.”

“Wasn’t your home either. You were only renting it until your divorce comes through, and excuse me, but that cottage didn’t skid anywhere. Well.” She licked the sugar off her fingertip. “Not until the next landslide.”

“You think it’s funny, do you?”

“Girls.” All their lives, it seemed Davey Calloway had been pulling them apart. In the playground, on the tennis courts, on the dance floor, on the beach. He was dark and rugged as the Cornish cliffs, and Ellen could never understand why his wife walked out on him.

Or why Tamara never married him.

“Once again, my little sister missed the point,” she said, pouring him a cup of coffee from the urn. “I was merely saying what a rough ride it’s been lately, and what with Dan dying the way that he did, and then Jenna, suddenly this town feels—” She broke off.

“Unsafe?”

“Cursed.”

That was the word she was looking for. Cursed.

Her eyes scanned the back room of this tiny town library. Stone built, low beams, stepped floor, a hundred years ago this used to be the schoolhouse. Now it was just another institution hanging on by its fingertips.

And another fight they’d probably lose.

“There’s more than weather eroding this land, Davey. There’s a sense of evil pervading the Cove; I can feel it.”

“Oh, please.” Tamara rolled her heavily kohled eyes. “Bad things happen all the time, Ell. It’s called life.”

“Armed robberies, burglary—”

“Without a police presence, criminals see us as a soft target. Right, Davey?”

“Doesn’t explain Jenna Kestle, Tam.” His face clouded. “Poor kid.”

“Exactly,” Ellen said. “Robbery gone wrong, burglary gone wrong, now sex attack gone wrong.”

“On Ibiza, for Chrissakes.” Tamara took a sip of her coffee and grimaced. Barista it most certainly was not. “You can’t legislate for getting strangled trying to defend yourself from a rapist.”

“Don’t be so bloody flippant,” Ellen began, but this time it wasn’t Davey Calloway who stopped her.

“Morning, me ’ansums.” The broad accent and gnarled old face were at odds with the sharp tailored suit, but when pilchards were called pilchards, there was no money in fishing. Call them sardines, and it’s a whole different story. “Not started without Clacky Bill, have ee?”

Clacky was Cornish for the sticky, chewy foodstuffs to which William Bolitho was partial.

“Not a chance, Bill.”

Once a month, local business owners gathered to debate issues to lay before the town council. Antique shops, cafes, beachwear outlets, pubs, even Davey Calloway’s motor-mechanic shed were represented. A casual rotary, if you like, with attendance varying according to commitments. Most times, though, the turnout averaged at around a dozen, giving it the nickname of the Jury Room.

Ellen poured another cup of coffee and handed it over. “We were discussing Jenna.”

“Tragic, tha’.” Bill shook his grizzled head. “Young maid can’t e’en go on holiday and be safe.”

The door opened again, admitting clouds of white silk, gold bangles, and Calvin Klein Obsession. “Jenna? Last time I saw her, poor love, she and I were pulling paintings out of the Sandpiper like it was the first day of the January sales.”

Rain or shine, cold or hot, Maggie Bawden wore white from her swan neck to her toes. Of indeterminate age, immaculately made-up and Spanxed to within an inch of her life, what better advert for the family dry-cleaning firm?

“Oh Lord, it’s so sad.” Tears welled in remembrance. “Would you look at us, Maggie! Jenna was laughing when she said it, wasn’t she always? What a live wire, that girl.”

Pretty with it, too, Ellen thought, picturing Jenna’s streaming red hair, legs like a colt, and with the same profusion of freckles on her nose, she was the spitting image of her mother, in the days when Ellen used to sit next to Kath in geography, swapping homework and boy stories, toffees and mags, before the ferryman’s son got her pregnant and Kath had to drop out of school.

“We look like a pair of chimney sweeps!” Maggie’s lips pursed. “That was the last thing she said to me, because then the Dutchman came rushing downstairs with the fire extinguisher, face like bloody thunder, shooing us out as though we were stealing his precious daubs, instead of saving them from the fire. It’s his fault I never had a chance to speak to Jenna again. Lousy, rotten bastard.”

“Cummas zon, Maggie.” A calloused hand covered hers and squeezed. “Thee can’t be blaming no Dutchman for that.”

“I damn well can. In fact I damn well do. He never even thanked us, Bill. How ungrateful’s that? Just a nod and a growl, then he’s locking the door behind us and running round like a dog chasing its tail, while we stand on the street, coughing and shivering and covered in soot, and now Jenna’s dead and his paintings are safe. Where’s the justice in that?”

“Here.” Tamara passed her a tissue. Maggie blew.

“Stress brings out the worst in people,” Ellen said gently. “Artists tend to pour their souls into their paintings, the effort drains them and makes them moody. I’m sure Mr. Reynders didn’t mean anything by it.”

Her job—more accurately, her vocation and her passion—was art restoration. Mostly Victorian oils, since these were the most plentiful. But cleaning portraits and restoring landscapes to their original glory gave Ellen a deeper insight than most into how passionate artists could be about their work. And how volatile they became at times.

“The Sandpiper Gallery only opened at Christmas,” she reminded the group. “After weeks of prep and restoration, to see all his hard work go up in flames must have been soul-destroying.”

“There you go, exaggerating again.” Tamara threw her manicured hands in the air. “The gallery hardly went up in flames, Ell.”

“Electrical short, wasn’t it?” Davey asked.

“Serve ’im right for rushing the job.” Bill ripped open a packet of custard creams and took two. “If ee’d hired a proper electrician, ’stead of one of his Dutch friends, it wouldn’t ha’ catched fire in the first place.” He let out a contemptuous sniff. on the Continent inn’t the same as over ’ere. Everyburdy know zat.”

“We weren’t to know it wasn’t serious.” Maggie eased her feet out of strappy heels that most women stopped wearing at thirty. And certainly during the winter. “Jenna and I were shooting the breeze—ever the chatterbox, her—when we saw the smoke in the gallery.” She began massaging her bunion. “Soon as we realized there was no one inside, we ran over and started yanking the paintings off the walls, yelling our bloody heads off to raise the alarm.”

“Ay, and thanks to ee two, it were catched in time.”

Their shouts alerted Maarten Reynders, who’d been doing what he always did. Locked himself away upstairs while he worked.

Another couple of local business owners trickled in to take their places at the table. Ellen hardly noticed.

Jenna’s dead and his paintings are safe, where’s the justice in that, Maggie said, but that was the trouble. When was life ever just? It’s not like TV. More often than not, the good guys lose, because evil is strong and black hearts are determined.

In this case, there was no good and no bad, and thanks to the reactions of two bystanders, damage was so minimal that it didn’t even warrant a claim on the insurance.

But then, a few days later, Dan Trelawney was stabbed, Arnold Warne fell down the stairs, and Jenna Kestle was murdered on a little Spanish island.

Rarely, Ellen thought, had the scales of justice balanced more unevenly.

 

Contrary to what most people assumed, the town was not named after the boats that were stowed or towed by sailing ships to ferry crew, supplies, and water to shore and back.

Not that Longboat Cove hadn’t seen its fair share of those. From the early 1700s to the late 1800s, when taxes on imports were so exorbitantly high that smuggling became a way of life, contraband was discharged with such regularity, it was a wonder the wagon tracks weren’t worn six feet deep. Particularly when rocky coastlines were such a magnet for shipwrecks, rendering lonely little peninsulas perfect for clandestine landings in a nimble rowing boat.

But, as Hamlet said, there’s the rub.

Because when you’re a Viking longship, looking to make a nice, juicy raid on an unsuspecting community to sack their lands and pillage their treasures, those rocks must have come as a nasty surprise.

As, no doubt, did the hospitality of the locals, who didn’t take kindly to having their village burned, their women raped, and their treasures carried off by a bunch of uncouth strangers. They slaughtered every Viking who staggered from the wreckage, then set their dragon carvings at the far end of the headland, like heads upon a pole, to deter any future Norsemen who might have it in their minds to come a-calling.

None did. And even though this was down to Viking raids being confined to northern Britain for reasons of logistics, it made these people heroes.

Twelve centuries down the line, standing beside the scaled longship, low winter sun gleaming off the bronze, Ellen had never been more conscious of her heritage. Or more proud. For three thousand years, her ancestors had lived and died on this peninsula. Fishing, mining, even smuggling to survive and then, in more recent times, tourism and art. Now the baton of responsibility had been passed to her generation. The weight was heavier than she imagined.

“I remember the day they unveiled this sculpture.”

“Davey?”

“You’d been married a year by then, and were living the high life in London.”

His hands were deep in his pockets, his collar was turned up, and his breath was white on air that was rich with that uniquely Cornish blend of fudge and pasties, crabs and seaweed, all mingled up with oak chips from the smokehouse.

“Early August, though you wouldn’t know it. The wind was howling off the Atlantic like it was March, the rain slanting in sideways like you wouldn’t believe. The band, poor sods, were soaked to their marrow, the ice-cream stalls had to be battened down before they took off to the moors, and the sky was blacker than the bottom of a coal mine. Those hardy souls who’d turned out for the unveiling took shelter in the pub, cheering from the window while the mayor struggled to cut the ribbon. Before a power cut took out all the lights, leaving us toasting the occasion with warm beer.” He smiled. “See what you missed?”

She watched the acrobatics of the gulls following the fishing boats as they returned to harbour. Stamped her feet against the cold. When you’re young, small towns are stifling. You want—need to break free of their grip. See exactly how bright those lights are out there. Feel the world’s pulse throb through your veins, and show this inward-looking bunch there’s something better beyond these suffocating boundaries.

Then prove to them, of course, that you were right.

“I missed a lot of things, Davey.” She returned his smile. “That’s why I came back.”

“And the good folk of Longboat Cove are very glad you did. Some”—he leaned his shoulder against the plinth and crossed his arms—“more than others. Now suppose we go in out of the cold, I buy you a pie and a pint, and you tell me what’s putting that ugly frown on your face?”

 

Fronting the harbour, the Crab & Lobster was a quintessential smugglers inn, all higgledy-piggledy stone-flag floors, oak beams, exposed brickwork, and roaring log fires. With its heavy thatched roof, whitewashed walls, and tiny windows, the only thing it lacked from the outside was a rumble of illicit barrels and the clack of a wooden leg on the cobbles.

Inside, it was fast forward six centuries, with the stables converted into five-star luxury accommodation featuring marble vanity tops and high four-poster beds, and a restaurant that employed a world-class chef.

“What happened to the pie and a pint?”

“Wine goes better with a hearty Cornish bouillabaisse, don’t you think?”

She did think. Especially a crisp, dry Sauvignon.

Davey had wangled a table by the fire, and, warm as toast, Ellen pushed up her sleeves. The place had come up a lot in the eight years she’d been away, and to her delight, the menu was as sophisticated as it was varied, with the food locally sourced, perfectly showcased, and excellently priced. Not too bad on the taste buds, either.

“So then. This is my end of the bargain.” Davey tucked into his stew of lobster, red mullet, mussels, and prawns. “Your turn.”

Ellen turned her eyes to the crackling logs. Watched flames lick round the splintered edges and sparks fly up the chimney. “Outsiders.”

The spoon paused midway to his mouth. Only tourists tackled bouillabaisse with a fork. “Of all the issues I thought might be responsible for that ugly frown—things like, y’know, homelessness, marriage breakup, coming back, starting over—somehow ‘outsiders’ didn’t make it to my short list.”

She pulled off a chunk of crispy baguette and challenged the laugh in his eyes. “Shouldn’t ask the question, if you’re not going to like the answer.”

“Funny, your father said exactly the same thing to me once. Right after I told him I’d proposed marriage to one of his daughters.” It was Davey’s turn to stare into the glowing amber logs. “Don’t suppose you even remember.”

Oh, she remembered right enough.

That was the night David Calloway broke her heart.

“There were twenty, thirty of us down on the beach,” he said. “The usual suspects. Someone, I think it was Gary, had brought his guitar, and we all sang and drank beer and told jokes and swapped stories while sausages sizzled on an open bonfire. Then there was a lull. I took you to one side.”

Yes, he did. And the stars were twinkling brighter than diamonds, and the light of a three-quarter moon reflected white on the sea.

I have it in mind to ask one of Joe Pascoe’s daughters to marry me. I’ve known her all my life, for God’s sake. Loved her for as long as I can remember. He’d paused at that point. Grinned. Even if she does fight like a cat with her sister.

No one forgets that conversation in a hurry.

“So what do you think, Ellen? I said. If I asked one of Joe Pascoe’s daughters to marry me, what do you think she’d say?”

For all it had been a warm summer’s night, everyone in T-shirts, vests, and shorts, a chill had crept into her bones.

“Long time ago,” Davey was saying. “Wouldn’t expect you to remember your reply, but I do. I remember it clearly. You said—”

“I said, Don’t worry, Davey. Tamara will snap your hand off.”

“Right.” He laid his spoon carefully on the side of his plate. “Then you turned your back and walked away, and ten minutes later you’re standing on a wooden crate, catching everyone’s attention by tapping on an empty beer bottle with a fork, and announcing your engagement to some city slicker I’d never even met. Which was when I told your father I’d just made the most pitiful proposal in the history of marriage—”

“What?”

“To which Joe Pascoe said, shouldn’t ask a question, boy, if—”

Her? Wine spilled on the cloth. Not Tam . . . ?

“—you know the rest, of course, and the daft thing was, I thought City Boy was just some casual date. A lame duck you’d asked along because he was at a loose end on holiday.”

Ellen wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted to slap David Calloway till he was red in the face, kiss him, kick him, throw his dinner in his lap. Hold him tight and never let him go.

Damn those Cornish genes that mean you never let it show.

“Yes, poor you. So heartbroken that—remind me again, how long before you married that librarian from Dublin? Five weeks? Six?”

“Marrying on the rebound was the worst thing I could have done. I’m not sure you ever loved me, she said the night she dragged her suitcase from the loft. Totell her I never had would have been hurtful, and I’d hurt her enough. But stacking her books and boxes in the back of her car, I knew I’d never see her again. And the saddest part was, I didn’t care.”

“Which brings us back full circle.” Ellen waved a saffron potato on the end of her fork. “To outsiders. And what bothers me about them, Davey, what really bothers me, is that we still view them as Vikings. Intruders, invaders, not to be trusted. People we can lay the blame on for our troubles, instead of taking responsibility for our own actions and facing up to our shortcomings.”

“Hello . . . ? Anybody listening out there . . . ?”

“I was quick to blame my ex. He was the one who had the affair. He was the one who walked out, so of course it was his fault. He was an outsider, I should have known I couldn’t trust him. But yesterday, Maggie’s outburst in the Jury Room got me thinking.”

How men who work in the City can’t be expected to understand why Longboat girls would hanker to sleep beneath the stars, or have the salt air licked off their cheeks. How they could lose themselves in art restoration to the extent that they forgot appointments and mealtimes, much less why they’d want to listen to the taped sound of seagulls and crashing waves when their husband had three thousand songs loaded onto his computer, because where was the rhythm in that?

“He wasn’t a Viking, but I killed him just the same.” She stabbed a mussel with venom. “Metaphorically speaking.”

“My wife was Irish, but I never blamed her. Which you’d know, if you’d been listening.”

“I was listening—” sort of “—but you’re the exception. Maggie blames Maarten Reynders for not having the chance to say goodbye to Jenna. Something she’d never have done, if that had been your gallery, or mine.”

“So there’s two of you. Happy now?”

“Laugh all you like, but hostility in Longboat Cove is endemic, that’s a fact, and Arnold Warne was one of the worst offenders. That stuff they wuz draggin’ off the walls? That weren’t no Dutchman’s. Remember that? Can’t paint for toffees, him, he’d tell anyone who’d listen. Has loads of ’em lined up on their easels, just so’s he can practice, and it’s crap. Nothing like the stuff downstairs, he’d say. Kids’ daubs, that’s what Dutchie paints, with green stripes down the middle.”

“Arnold Warne’s prime motivation in life was stirring up trouble. Passing on gossip when he could, making it up when he couldn’t.”

“Agreed, and you don’t need an eye for art to appreciate Maarten Reynders’ talent.” Her face softened. “I’ve watched him paint, Davey. The attention to detail is amazing, and his passion for bright colours verges on Fauvism

“Whatever that is.”

“Derain, Matisse, Jean Metzinger? No?” Sometimes she forgot he spent his life tinkering with engines. “Anyway, because Maarten’s an outsider—from the Netherlands at that—Arnold had no compunction in rubbishing his work. Bleddy fraud, that’s what he is. He wouldn’t have dared to slander any of the other gallery owners.”

“Reynders being the closest thing to a Viking?”

“I knew you’d come round eventually.”

“Round?” Davey gulped a mouthful of Sauvignon to stop the choking. “Jesus, Ellen, I’m not even close! Arnold was a poisonous little prick, who took great delight in telling Maude from the riding stables that her boyfriend, Jack, was cheating, when he was nothing of the sort. He accused Clacky Bill’s grandson of shoplifting, old Mrs. Galloway of stealing, and if that wasn’t enough, he swore blind the vicar of St. Piran’s was an alcoholic on the quiet.”

“And the irony is, if Arnold Warne hadn’t boycotted Dan’s funeral out of meanness and spite, he wouldn’t have disturbed the burglars and would be alive today. Instead, he’s dead, Jenna’s dead, Dan Trelawney too. Which is why I say, Longboat Cove is cursed.”

Dark eyes rolled. “For a professional woman, Ellen Pascoe, you put forward some of the most irritating, irrational, unfounded arguments of anyone I’ve ever met, and if you don’t come outside and kiss me this minute, I’m going to have to lean across this table and do it.”

“Last time you kissed me, I didn’t leave your bed for a week.”

“We were teenagers back then. Experimenting. You’ll find I’m not in such a hurry these days.”

They were still laughing, arms wrapped round each other’s waists, when they noticed the sprawl of white at the foot of the cliff steps. Ellen’s first thought was, parachute. Paragliding was a popular pastime in the summer, and in the winter too, if it was mild.

Then she saw the blood. . . .

 # # #

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"The Longboat Cove Murders" by Marilyn Todd, Copyright © 2015 with permission of the author.

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