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Death By Chocolate chapter 5 and 6

by  Phelim

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2004
Word Count: 2094
Summary: The next two chapters of an intellectual cosy/traditional story.

Chapter 5
It was a wet Thursday morning, nearly a week after the events at the theatre. Robert Westland was out delivering the morning post, and arrived at Ivy Cottage. Bottles of milk stood outside the door, the milkman having just been on his rounds. As Robert pushed the letters bills, bank statements and junk mail through the letter boxes he heard, but did not hear, the sound of the letters hitting the floor. As he delivered the mail to Gareth Highfield, turned and walked down the path something registered in his subconscious. Robert stopped with his hand on the gate and looked back towards the house. Six milk bottles stood to attention on the step. Two freshly delivered, the others from previous days.

A quick look at the garage soon put paid to the idea that Gareth was away as the door was open and the car in full view, the seats glistening with unabsorbed rain drops. Slowly Robert walked back to the front door and rang the bell. Gareth had installed a traditional style bell and pull. As Robert tugged on the metal handle a loud ring sounded in the cottage. No one came to the door, though there was no way that Gareth could not have heard the summons. Robert tried again and waited, not expecting Gareth to answer. Out of curiosity as much as concern, Robert went round to the gate at the side of the house. Opening it he went round to the back door. Walking past the dining room window, Gareth saw something that arrested his progress. Sat in his large wing-backed arm chair was Gareth. His eyes stared unseeing out of the window, a look of disgust and surprise frozen on his face. A mug of coffee had fallen onto the carpet and a dry stain was all that was left of the beverage. A box of chocolates sat on the arm of the chair, a low glow from the gas fire.

Robert heard himself cry out, and then wretch as if being sick. He grasped onto the window sill to stop himself fainting. There was no need for a doctor to inform him, Robert knew Gareth was dead. After a few minutes Robert steadied himself and left the garden. The post could wait. Walking across the road to the shop and post office, Robert entered the red phone box. With shaking hands he dialled 999. Then a voice that sounded unlike his own spoke.

“Police please.”

Robert waited for a few second that felt like an eternity.

“Hello, police? I've just found a dead body.”

Automatically he gave his name and the address of Ivy Cottage. Receiving confirmation that an officer was on their way, Robert put the phone down and walked over to the duck pond. Sitting on the bench, Robert placed his head in his hands and burst into tears.

Suzette Goodwin's phone rang as she poured herself the second of her morning cups of coffee. Putting the jug down, Suzette ran through the list of possibilities as to who was ringing. It was just after eight and, emergencies aside, very few people rang at that time. As she picked up the phone, Suzette leant against the wall.

“Dr Goodwin speaking”

A voice, weighed down by official tones, came down the line. With the unemotional delivery that can only come from years of practice, Suzette was informed of a body found at Ivy Cottage, Wykmead. As police surgeon her presence was required. Scene of Crime Officers were already present.

Putting down the phone, Suzette picked up her coffee and walked to the window. Looking out she could see the flashing blue lights of the emergency services parked near the village green. Downing her drink, at the risk of a burnt mouth, Suzette picked up her doctor's bag and official badge. She stopped with her hand on the door handle. Stepping back to the phone she quickly found the telephone number of Philip Weaver. As she suspected Suzette only got the answer phone, Philip was at morning prayers. Leaving a quick message for the rector, Suzette readied herself and set off down the road.

It only took a couple of minutes for Suzette to get to Ivy Cottage. The village constable Jonathan Cooper was on duty, mainly directing traffic. When Dr Goodwin arrived the police officer acknowledged her with a nod. As a group of school children had gathered, waiting for the bus to take them to the nearby comprehensive, Jonathan was unable to talk. Suzette walked passed him and the teenagers. Showing her official badge, Suzette passed under the police tape that cordoned off the area. Going through the gate, she was escorted round the back of the house to where the door had been forced open. Putting sterile slippers over her shoes, and slipping on a pair of gloves, Suzette entered the cottage and walked over to the body. If she was honest, Suzette never had had much time for Gareth. Even so, her sense of justice was provoked by the sight of the empty shell that once was the centre of attention.

Bending down Suzette felt for a pulse, knowing that none would be there. The coldness of the skin confirmed what Suzette knew. Gareth was dead and had been some time. Even so, she still had to follow the procedure. Removing the stethoscope from her bag Suzette then proceeded to listen for a faint heart beat. Suzette should have performed a test with a mirror, but it wasn't necessary. The eye's were cloudy and the skin of the chest starting to get a green tinge. Suzette resisted the temptation to close the corpse's eyes. Hearing footsteps behind her, Suzette turned and saw the pathologist entering.

It was to the pathologist, a youngish man who's greying hair belied his age, that Suzette addressed herself. “He's been dead, I would guess around forty eight hours. No obvious cause of death, but I'm sure you'll find it.”

Suzette then turned to the police officer who accompanied the pathologist. A brown haired man with a goatee beard. “Do you need me any more.....?”

The officer had a soft West Country burgh, the only remains of an accent that had been removed while at university. “Inspector Oaklea, doctor. Not at the moment, though we will be wanting to interview people from the village.”

“Of course. One other thing. Who found the body?”

“The village postman, Robert Westland. He's at his house giving a statement.”

The tone of Inspector Oaklea's voice stated that there had been enough chit chat. Leaving the room, Suzette stopped to let the photographers and investigators pass to finish their jobs. Outside the house Suzette stopped and looked one last time at Gareth Highfield. She knew that the body was just an empty shell, but Suzette also knew what the forensic process entailed. Closing her eyes she conjured up the image of Highfield enter The Stag. That was how she wanted to remember him. Turning away from the scene of the investigation Suzette headed home, vowing that she would help in every way to bring the culprit to justice.

While all Suzette wanted to do was to get home and gather her thoughts, peace was not to be her companion that morning. Approaching her gate, Suzette saw the Rector approaching. His coat and manner suggested that he had just left the Church.

“Morning Philip. Been home yet?” Dr Goodwin hoped that Philip would just give a quick answer and go on his way. Yet at the same time she hoped that he would allow her to unburden herself. Not that Suzette knew what she wanted to unburden.

“No. I've just finished Morning Prayers. You're out early....” Philip stopped mid-sentence and looked properly at his friend. Skills learnt in Student Support at the university where he had worked, and as a Samaritan fired into life. “What's happened? Are you okay?”

Suzette heard herself offering Philip a coffee. Philip nodded and silently followed the doctor into her house.

Philip knew from experience not to push someone to speak. The other person needed to be ready to share. As such he drank his first cup in silence, just speaking to affirm his need for milk and to give the number of sugars he required. He also said yes, may be a bit too willingly, to a second cup. It was as Philip reached the dregs of the refill that Suzette decided to break the silence.

As she had poured her and Philip's coffees, Suzette had been thinking. Gareth Highfield was dead. She decided, hoping that she was not jumping too soon to the wrong conclusion, that he had been murdered. Then Suzette realised that she had decided this when she examined the body. She refilled Philip's cup thinking what to say. Suzette had not touched her coffee which was now getting cold. Picking up her lukewarm drink, she spoke what was on her mind.

“Gareth Highfield's been murdered.” She carried on, not letting Philip get a word in. Now she had started Suzette needed to carry on.

“I got a phone call this morning from the police. A body had been found at Ivy Cottage. As police surgeon I needed to go round and declare him dead.

“He was just sat there, staring blankly out the window. A look of disgust frozen on his face, as if he had just eaten something that didn't taste nice. I know he had enemies, but nobody hated him enough to kill him. Did they!”

Philip sat and stared at Suzette. While he was trained not to show surprise, this was not what he had been expecting. Realising how much he must be embarrassing his companion, Philip stared at his cup. When he looked back up at Suzette the emotion shown in his eyes was not surprise.

Chapter 6
Robert Westland sat in his favourite armchair, a mug of sweet steaming tea at his arm. Two police officers sat at an angle to him, unseen by the eyes red from tears. (The post office had sent someone to finish Robert's round, causing many letters to arrive late.) Robert spoke, the shake in his voice matching that of his hands, retelling what had happened.

“The post didn't sound right. Letters hitting the carpet sound different from letters hitting other post. There must have been at least two days worth of delivery on the floor. And there was too many milk bottles on the doorstep. Two bottles were always delivered, a gold top and a semi-skimmed. Mr Highfield was always careful to cancel both the post, and the milk, if he went away.

“I was already heading down the path, and out of the gate when the noise registered. At first I thought he had gone away in a hurry. Then I saw the car. The blue Morgan. Mr Highfield would never have left the door open unless he was planning to go out later. It was always shut. So I thought that Mr Highfield must be ill. So I opened the gate and went round the back to see if he was up getting a Lemsip or something. As I walked past the drawing room window, I saw him sitting there, staring.

“Excuse me, I think I'm going to be...” Robert pushed his way blindly past the police officers and out of the door. Soon retching noises could be heard from down the corridor.

The police officers sat patiently waiting for Robert to return. They spent their time looking around the room. It was sparsely furnished and hadn't been updated since the 1970's. The brown corduroy furniture matched with crotched covers for the back of the chairs. An old electric fire and large black and white television stood as the focal points of the room. The meditations of what this meant were interrupted by Robert's return.

Putting aside Robert's apologies the officer in charge went straight to the point. Did anyone hate Gareth Highfield enough to kill him?

Robert's reply was just as brief as the question. “He had a number of enemies. Many people, myself included, didn't and don't want the theatre he got built. And then people are saying that he removed the leading lady from her position in his play and gave it to his lover. But nobody hated him enough to kill him. But then he wasn't the type to commit suicide. He was too full of himself, and would not have wanted to rob the world of such a talent. Not that it was that special.”