A Death in C Minor
A Death in C Minor
The sign above the entrance to the Rose and Crown read:
Wellies Not Permitted Inside Pub
As Troy and Gwen led Jess inside, her nostrils were assaulted with a co-mingling of odors -- cigarette smoke, stale beer and ale, fried food, mold, and what smelled suspiciously like horse or cow manure.
This Thursday evening, Kenwick's only pub was packed with people eating, chatting, drinking bitters, and watching football on the telly above the bar. As the three eeled their way to a large table located near the front windows of the pub, Jess couldn't help but notice that the locals all stared at her. For this unconventionally beautiful woman, it was a typical reaction. With her abundant honey-blond hair carelessly pulled back into a French twist, her wide, dark green eyes, alabaster complexion, naturally full lips that needed no collagen enhancement, and her nose with a bump on the bridge (which she hated), all packaged into her petite, curvy figure, Jess couldn't be mistaken for a stuck-up ice maiden. Instead, her's was an accessible beauty, the type that made people want to get to know her -- a beauty that compelled strangers to come up to Jess on the street asking for directions they didn't really need, simply to find an excuse to talk to her.
Before her defection to England, she had been one of America's most celebrated young concert pianists. Yet, Jess had never played the snooty diva. On the contrary, she was both earthy and down to earth with a wicked, irreverent wit, throaty laugh, sensual grace, and a kick-off-your-shoes-and-let's-have-a-martini attitude toward life. The fire within her burnt low but steady, and warmed even the coldest of rooms, never singeing those who came near it.
"Everyone, this is Jessica Beaumont, who's visiting from America," Gwen announced. "She's staying at Clif and Penny Stanhope's place while he's at Harvard."
While Troy scrambled to get chairs for the three of them, Gwen introduced Jess to the so-called fish and chips gang. Although she wouldn't remember everyone's name that evening, Jess would come to know many of these same people over the next several months in ways she could not possibly predict.
"Emory and Courtney Walton," Gwen said. The couple nodded at Jess. "Emory is a professor of classics at Cambridge University and is counting the days until his retirement."
Everyone at the table chuckled at the remark except Emory Walton, who wore a stern, professorial expression, as if he were mentally translating Gwen's words into ancient Greek. After sharing the gang's laugh, his wife lapsed back into a tense, non-committal silence.
Next were Graham and Deborah Carlisle. Graham was introduced as a retired London-based businessman, although Jess couldn't make out through the crowd noise what sort of business he had been in. Like the other couples in the group, the Carlisles were middle-aged and past their prime in terms of whatever physical attractiveness they might have enjoyed in earlier times.
Jules and Emma Miller. Jules worked for the Ministry of Transport and, like many Kenwick transplants, commuted to his job in London. Dark and heavy set, he stood out in stark contrast to his thin, blond wife.
"And last, but certainly not least, Tony and Consuela Neville," Gwen said, completing the introductions.
"Please call me Connie," said the stunning 40-something woman, reaching up to shake Jess' hand. Tony Neville, a stocky man with a flushed complexion, greeted Jess with a nod.
"Tony trades in precious metals in The City," Troy explained, motioning Jess and Gwen to sit in the chairs he had cadged from other tables.
"I see," Jess said. "So, how's business?
Pulling a face, Tony shrugged. "Win some, lose some."
The three new arrivals settled into their chairs at the crowded table.
"I like the sign above the entrance," Jess said for openers, raising h