Cherringham - Death Trap
Cherringham - Death Trap
1. A Big Chill
The snowy billows that had greeted Jane Ellingham as she walked out of the door of the Bell Hotel had - seemingly with each step - grown fiercer, thicker; turning from puffy white flakes to something heavier, colder.
And as she took her uncertain steps down Cherringham High Street, she could see that what had been just a thin layer of white was already deepening.
I'm too old for this, she thought.
With the weather reports turning more dire by the hour, she couldn't believe that publisher Humphrey Lane hadn't just cancelled the damn event.
What was he thinking - with people trekking from London, intending to get back tonight? What hope for them arranging for a last-minute room in the Bell Hotel (now fully booked, she imagined)?
If the predictions were accurate, there was worse to come, and this snow - constant, fed by steady gusts - was only just beginning.
And for what? A book launch for Edward Townes.
She might be his agent, but weren't his book launch days long gone?
With such steadily declining sales figures for his rather tired historical series - The Outlaw Knight - why this party in Townes's home village? In Cherringham of all places? Probably charming and all that - during daylight, on a summer's day - but not now with a blizzard on offer!
No. This particular gala was shaping up to be torture for all involved.
But then, as she took a turn by the medieval church - its upper spire now almost hidden by the fog created by the swirling snow - she wondered if Humphrey Lane had some other motivation for this party.
And was that the reason why he hadn't cancelled - fired off a text to all and sundry, saying, ' stay at home, nice and warm'?
If he had, then maybe she could have weathered the storm back in London, with a gin martini - extra olives please - always done to perfection at the Charlotte Street Hotel bar.
And with the city probably less likely to get the brunt of the storm.
I mean , she thought, it is London after all!
What storm would even dare!
She took her steps carefully, until she stopped, glanced at the printout of the small map Lane had sent ahead.
And there, not too far from the church's graveyard - cheery place that! - Astley Hall. The barn-like building had been transformed into a miniature castle, complete with a faux turret - she guessed - at its top, pennants flapping wildly in the wind.
And Jane, now reaching out to the nearby stone wall that lined the path, was nearly there. Late for the party. Her coat thick with snow ...
She pushed open the heavy wooden door, and, she had to admit, it was a surreal moment.
A quick gust of blessed warmth from inside, a young woman - a girl, really - ready to take her coat, her bag, her broad-brimmed hat (also with a good quarter inch of snow on top).
But not just the heat, the light - candles everywhere , with the regular hall lights dimmed down.
And music ...
She guessed that's what it was. Hard to tell, as it competed with the usual hundred-decibel output of the gossiping book world.
More like someone with a bag of cats, alternately squeezing and prodding them to produce some bleating noise and howls; accompanied by others in costume thumping at tubby drums and tambourines.
Probably completely authentic, musical tastes being what they were in fourteenth century England. Who knew?
But after the sombre walk from the Bell Hotel to here, the sound, the candles - all rather bizarre.
And then, relieved of her coat, she looked around. The hall - all ancient beams and high ceiling. Stone pillars. Faux medieval tapestries on every wall. Even a couple of knights in armour standing in the corners.