Hello, and welcome to my 2023 A to Z Blogging Challenge! For a detailed explanation of what I’m up to this year, see my Theme Reveal. But basically, I’m taking all the suspects I made up for my A to Z last year (with help from several commenters!) and putting them all into an actual murder mystery. See the sidebar for links to last year’s posts; if your device doesn’t display sidebars (if, for example, you are visiting on your phone), the links will be under the comment section, right under my A to Z 2023 participation badge.
Chapter Nine: Ingrid
Ingrid looked at Josephine. “I really feel that this is your bit, Jo,” she urged.
“Oh! I couldn’t! I really couldn’t!” cried Josephine, her emptily pretty face showing traces of panic. “It’s so terribly awkward!” And she looked helplessly round the room. Her eyes fixed on Leonard the solicitor. “Besides, I don’t think it could be true, not really. Or anyway, not… I think I must have been wrong. Don’t you?” And she looked at Ingrid with a plea in her guileless blue eyes.
Ingrid looked at Josephine with a mixture of pity and exasperation. Crowner, who had interviewed the lady several times, understood entirely.
“Fine,” said Ingrid, grimly. “I’ll do your dirty work for you. Sorry and all that, sir.” And she looked at Leonard, too. “But it has to come out. And I’m sure we can make it right. Gregory isn’t vindictive, you know.”
Leonard looked somewhere between mildly alarmed and mortally terrified. “Oh dear,” he said. “Oh my.” And he turned to look pleadingly at Gregory.
“Oh, rather,” said Gregory, waving a hand. “What are you talking about, though?”
“First,” said Crowner, “let’s fill in the scene a bit. We’ve heard that you arrived in the middle of a quarrel; tell us about it.”
Ingrid made a face. “I suppose I’d better. Very well. Eli and I showed up at Jo and Fred’s place at around six. They don’t have servants, so the door was cracked open—that’s standard, for them, and it means that you’re expected to just walk in. We caught the tail-end of a pretty impressive dust-up. Josephine was—well, I’m afraid she was ripping into poor old Fred. Didn’t know she had it in her. He sounded pretty subdued—wordless cries, you know, like she’d worn him down. It was embarrassing, especially because they were clearly arguing about the conversation she was planning to have with us. We were standing petrified in the hallway when we heard Fred bang out of the house in a rage.
“Then Jo came out. Said that her husband thought she should keep her mouth shut, but that she was quite sure we needed to know. Said she thought we should be the ones to decide whether she told the police about it. You see—” and Ingrid blushed a bright red, “Josephine and my father were—close friends…”
Annabelle snorted. “You mean Josephine was his mistress. Don’t hedge, girl.”
Fred suddenly exploded. “She wasn’t! She’d never, with him!” Then he made a gurgling noise and pitched forward, his face contorted with fury. It sounded like he was saying some very foul things about Annabelle into the muffling privacy of the dome he made of his arms.
Ingrid looked terribly unhappy. “Look, let’s just leave it that my father and Jo were friends, and that Jo was pretty miserable here, on the whole.”
“Jo was miserable? Jo?” Annabelle shrieked. “Poor Jo. Everyone feels sorry for Jo. Everyone understands about Jo. But she’s not half so silly as people think. If you knew how much jewelry that empty-headed little fluffball had gotten out of my husband—my husband!—you’d know she knew at least a thing or two.”
Annabelle’s outburst seemed to ripple round the room. In his chair, Fred started to shake. Cecil sat up suddenly, and his flask fell with a clatter to the floor. Kathy stopped knitting and bent down. Ravi and Yuri exchanged embarrassed looks. The Vicar held up a hand, as if mutely calling for peace. Gregory’s face hardened. Meghan looked down at the ground, as if afraid to meet Annabelle’s furious glare. Josephine herself looked vague, but vaguely upset. And in his corner, Sergeant Mug straightened to attention.
“Must we?” said Ingrid. “Scenes are so exhausting, don’t you think?” Then she hurried into speech again. “Let’s get this over with. Josephine told us that my father told her that Leonard had been embezzling from him for years. My father had just found him out. Apparently, he was amused as well as angry. The cream of the joke, to my father, was that Leonard had been stealing from my father in order to pay off a blackmailer, who happened, unbeknownst to Leonard, to be my father. My father intended to ruin Leonard professionally and, if possible, get him sent to prison for the embezzlement, knowing full well that his own blackmailing role in the affair would never come out.”
Ingrid looked both bitter and utterly weary. “It was all very disgusting of father, and I quite see why Jo told me before making any further moves. Still, it was a terribly uncomfortable interview, and it seemed to go on forever. Her big question was, should she go to the police? She was certain that Leonard had killed my father. It seemed so obvious to her, knowing what she knew. On the other hand, it hadn’t been very nice, of father, to do that to Leonard. Did I want her to keep mum? Frankly, I did. Eli, however, rather thought it placed us all in an awkward legal position. We left without giving any definite answer. We met Fred, having a stroll outside; he was obviously having trouble with his leg, and his face looked like thunder. We asked if we could help him to the house, but he said he wasn’t ready to go back yet. So we—”
“Do you mean,” said Leonard, his voice barely under control, “that it was Sir Adam himself who was blackmailing me? That—that—” and he looked at Josephine. “Is it really true?” He asked, quietly.
Now that’s really a twist. I don’t think I’ve encountered that – the blackmailer being embezzled in order to be paid.
Hey Kristin! I liked that idea, too! It was suggested last year by Anne Nydam, so I can’t really take credit for it. Totally brilliant!
I thought Fred had been poisoned, and we’d get another murder.
This has been fantastic character work on your part. Each character has a voice, and you still have many to go.
Well, Fred hasn’t been poisoned, but… well, keep reading, there is some fun coming on that subject.
Thanks! I’m trying my best to give them distinct personalities.
Okay, I’m going to sympathise with Annabelle on this one – to have everyone pitying your husband’s mistress must be rather galling. Especially since the initial character sketch of Josephine hardly made her out to be all sweetness and put-upon virtue. She’s a narcissistic gold-digger pure and simple.
I am quite curious, though, about Fred not wanting to tell the police about Leonard. I mean, perhaps he didn’t want Josephine admitting to her affair with Sir Adam, but it was pretty common knowledge after all. So why pass up the opportunity to throw an enticing suspect in front of the police?
I agree with you, I feel that Annabelle has real grounds for complaint here. By the way, thank you for the idea here, that Leonard’s blackmailer was in fact Sir Adam–I am pretty sure that was your suggestion, last year!
Definitely a twist – Adam was not a charming character – does he have any redeeming features?
He may in fact be a bit exaggeratedly bad… maybe I should try to work in something nice he did once, somewhere, to make him seem a little more human. I don’t have any current plans to do that, but if I spot a place for it, I’ll put it in.
That was Anne’s brilliant idea. And neither of them knew what the other was doing until Sir Adam discovered Leonard’s embezzlement.
I suppose Leonard might have poisoned Sir Adam to prevent his embezzlement from coming into a glaringly public light, but I’m not convinced.
This is the first time Fred — or anyone — has completely denied Josephine was ever Adam’s mistress. Is he certain? Or is he just choosing to believe what his wife must be telling him? And if he knows for sure that she was not involved with Sir Adam, was Jo trying to soften Adam up to go along with the Fred’s purchase of Sir Adam’s field?
I’m still not feeling much sympathy for Annabelle. her hatred and anger are so closed to the surface that I have yet to see any sincere heartache or hurt on Annabelle’s part.
These are excellent questions!
And I have to say, I don’t feel any real sympathy for Annabelle either, though I do think that her outburst here is understandable. That’s part of it, though: she is in a bad situation, but that is mostly her own fault. And she may even kind of know that, and that makes her even more vicious. She’s a mean, nasty person, and I’ve been having fun writing her. She pokes, she prods, she bursts every available bubble. And, though sometimes I worry she verges into parody, I then remind myself of some people I’ve actually known, and… I mean, she’s not such an outlier, really.