Under Cover Of Darkness – Episode 01

The village of Peterford was normally a quiet place, but that Friday there was a wedding going on in Hartfield House that was making itself heard for miles around. There was a band for the dancing and lots of noisy guests, and that was before the fireworks got underway.

However, no-one grudged the West family their celebration. The general opinion was that the Wests were likeable people, not prone to flaunting their wealth. Except for the wedding, perhaps. But the bride was a lovely girl and everyone wished her well.

Harry was the bride’s brother, twenty-nine, blue eyed and dark haired, and much admired by the opposite sex.

“He’s a dream,” Gina, a student recruited by the catering staff as a waitress, said. “Look at him. Isn’t he gorgeous?”

Lily Lynch, wife of Arnold the butcher, harrumphed and offered no comment. They were at the stage of clearing up the remains of the meal, and topping up glasses as they watched the guests cavorting about on the marquee dance floor. One end of the marquee was open to the night air and it still felt warm.

“Well, isn’t he?” the girl insisted.

“Handsome is as handsome does,” Lily said. “My grandmother used to say that.And he won’t be interested in you, Gina. You’re a nice-looking girl, but he’s got other fish to fry.”

“Oh? Who?”

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. But I do know the signs. Look at him now. He’s trying to escape.”

Gina screwed up her eyes.

“Is he? Oh, you’re right. He’s vanished into the shrubbery. Why would he do that?”

“Why, indeed. Here, girl. Keep your mind on the job. There’s an old general over there who wants his Beaujolais refreshed.”

Gina picked up the bottle of red, crossed to the old gentleman, and forgot about Harry West.

* * * *

Down in the village, Danny Fleck set about this evening’s act of vandalism. Danny came from Bremston, the metropolis seven miles to the east, and was out of his comfort zone. Bremston was not a big town, but it dwarfed Peterford, and gave him much more scope for the kind of decorative work he enjoyed. He could etch bus shelter after bus shelter in Bremston without the police ever catching him at it.

However, here he was in sleepy, downtown Peterford, etching a drawing of a lion rampant into the virgin plastic. Unusually, he was on his own, but since this was a kind of commission, that made perfect sense.

There was some sort of party going on, however, that he hadn’t bargained for. He worked quickly and effectively, and in the end was quite satisfied with his artwork. It was difficult to tell with just the lighting from the street lamp several yards away, but Danny had confidence in his own skill. The lion rampant would be a thing of beauty in the daylight. He had earned his commission. And as if it was meant, the last bus of the evening appeared round the corner, ready to take him back to the asphalt and concrete of Bremston.

* * * *

Arnold Lynch, butcher of this parish, stood at his back window and looked in the direction of Hartfield House, where his wife was earning a few extra bob dishing up caviar and oysters to the over-privileged. Arnold was middle-aged and thick-set, and had an expression that could frighten a charging bull. Right now his wrath was aimed at the owners of the big house, the Wests, who had once been regulars at his shop until they withdrew their custom. A simple mistake, that’s all it had been. And they would never have noticed had they not been primed by That Woman.

The more he thought about That Woman, the higher his blood pressure rose. Who was she to question his weights and measures? OK, so he wasn’t always completely accurate, but people in a village were ready for a bit of give and take. Weights and Measures, like Health and Safety, were an absolute pain in the neck. He had never deliberately cheated anyone, had he? And he was sure his miscalculations worked as often in favour of the customers as against them.

His head knew that this was nonsense, but he nursed his grievance just the same. That Woman had denounced him to the village, and some people had believed her, including the Wests. They had taken their custom to Bremston, and Arnold knew for a fact that the butcher there put far too much cereal into his sausages. And now, as the first of the fireworks lit up the sky, he prayed with all his heart for a cloudburst, some time within the next five minutes.

As firework after firework exploded over Hartfield House, the village sat in the shadow. Amid the bangs and whoops overhead, no-one heard the startled shriek emanating from the back garden of Thistle Cottage.


Used to make posts more anonymous, eg a criminal case where you don’t want to expose the actual journalist.