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Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
The Curse of Mabb’s Farm
1. The Curse
3. A Sunday Roast
4. A Surprise Invitation
5. War Games
6. Mabb’s Circle
7. A Family Affair
8. A Woman’s Touch
9. Back to Basics
10. Happy Hour at the Ploughman’s
11. A Dire Warning
12. Ray’s Secret
13. Plans for a Gibbous Moon
14. The Plan
15. The Ring of Stones
16. The Moon Rises
17. The Curse Revealed
18. Loose Ends
“Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series” is a series made up of self-contained stories. A new episode is released each month. The series is published in English as well as in German, and is only available in e-book form.
Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Neil Richards has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90’s and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham is their first crime fiction as co-writers.
Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife a year ago. Being retired, all he wants is peace and quiet. Which is what he hopes to find in the quiet town of Cherringham, UK. Living on a canal boat, he enjoys his solitude. But soon enough he discovers that something is missing — the challenge of solving crimes. Surprisingly, Cherringham can help him with that.
Sarah Edwards is a web designer who was living in London with her husband and two kids. Two years ago, he ran off with his sexy American boss, and Sarah’s world fell apart. With her children she moved back to her home town, laid-back Cherringham. But the small town atmosphere is killing her all over again — nothing ever happens. At least, that’s what she thinks until Jack enters her life and changes it for good or worse …
Matthew CostelloNeil Richards
A COSY CRIME SERIES
The Curse of Mabb’s Farm
»be« by BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT
Digital original edition
»be« by Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG
Copyright © 2014/2017 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany
Written by Matthew Costello and Neil Richards
Edited by Victoria Pepe
Project management: Lori Herber
Cover illustration: © shutterstock: Buslik/xpixel/jamesdavidphoto
Cover design: Jeannine Schmelzer
eBook production: Urban SatzKonzept, Düsseldorf
Charlie Fox looked across the valley at the sun, which had now slipped behind the hills.
I should be back at the farm, he thought. Sipping a nice cold one, Caitlin getting dinner ready.
But here he was trying to get his damn cows to head home down the hill for milking, instead of stopping every few feet, chomping on grass, then eye-balling Charlie while they chewed the cud.
As if they were saying …we’ll move when we’re ready!
Like everything else on the farm, this herding cows business… all went to crap when Charlie touched it.
He was told a few dairy cows — couldn’t be easier! Small herd, low maintenance — big profit, they said.
They eat the damn grass, the machine milks them.
Until the damn machine goes on the blink and costs a fortune to be fixed. And what about when the cows don’t even want to be milked? What kind of cows don’t want to be milked? These Jerseys worth a fortune. Supposed to be made of milk.
And of course, he was now down yet another animal. Had thirty at the beginning of the year, now only twenty-six after this damned TB nonsense.
‘Keep an eye on the others,’ the vet had said, handing Charlie a whopping bill.
The sun had set now, and the light had faded from the murky autumn sky.
“Come on!” he said to the cows.
He had a wooden switch that was supposed to herd them but it seemed he must be doing something wrong because all it ever did was make the cows give him the evil eye.
They weren’t bulls. No horns or whatnot. Still, maybe not a good idea to anger an animal that big.
He rubbed his arms at the dropping temperature and, turning to face the farmhouse, thought again about the dinner Caitlin would have ready for him when suddenly, he saw fire.
He froze for a minute, as if what he was looking at was from one of those horror films he loved to watch.
But then — oh shit — he bolted, racing down the slippery, muddy slope of the hill, running full pelt to his farm.
Eyes locked on the fire.
It wasn’t the farmhouse. Caitlin and Sammy would be okay, thank God.
But his tractor, sitting just outside the barn — covered in flames!
Still not paid for, and now the thing was on fire, its shape lost in the blaze, black smoke swirling.
As he ran, he saw Caitlin race out of the house holding Sammy, his sweet baby boy, looking at the fire.
More damn bad luck! he thought.
And, eyes on the flaming tractor, his right foot caught an exposed tree root and then he tumbled forward, failing to stop his fall.
He thumped to the ground hard, a painful landing caught by his right shoulder as he then rolled further down the hill.
Shoulder hurting, he hauled himself up and continued racing, dodging cow pats.
Then, close now, he saw someone running from the right.
Tom. His farm-hand.
What the hell was he doing here?
By the time Charlie had reached the tractor, the fire had begun to ebb; the yellow paint now blistered and blackening.
Tom held the fire extinguisher they kept in the barn pointed at the tractor.
But nothing was coming out.
Why is Tom even here?
Charlie yelled. “Turn the damn thing on, Tom!”
The farm-hand turned to Charlie, yelling back. “It’s stuck, Charlie. These things are supposed to be inspected. You’re supposed to make sure they—”
And with Tom berating him — something he did far too easily, Charlie thought — the extinguisher suddenly went on with a loud whoosh!
Above that sound, Charlie heard Sammy crying. His baby boy, scared by the shouts, the fire.
He should be inside. Caitlin should take him inside.
Instead Caitlin came closer, her voice just audible above the noise of the crackling fire and the extinguisher foam shooting out, covering the tractor like snow.
The baby was still crying.
“Go inside, Caitlin. I’ll deal with this.”
The fire extinguisher stopped, empty.
But the fire — save on one of the big rear tyres which was now giving off a horrible stink — had also stopped.
The smell — from the extinguisher stuff, from the melted paint, the burning tyre — made Charlie’s stomach turn.
But it was over.
“It’s the Curse, Charlie. This farm is cursed!”
He turned and looked at his wife, wanting to disagree, to tell her no such thing.
Especially since she had their blue-eyed boy close.
Everything’s okay. It’s all fine.
But this fire?
He turned to Tom, still standing there, empty extinguisher in his hands.
Charlie had other ideas about how this fire started, and who did it.
“You … bastard!” Charlie said, gesturing wildly to the ruined tractor.
“What? What the hell you talking about, Charlie?”
Charlie moved closer to Tom.
“You did this. You set my tractor on fire, you—”
“Charlie—” Caitlin moved to stand beside him. Sammy waved a hand towards his father’s face as if the little fellow could sense something was wrong.
Tom shook his head. “Charlie, I just put out the fire. Went to the barn, got the extinguisher—”
“And what were you doing here anyway?”
Tom had left hours ago, angry, kicking at the dirt when Charlie told him that he’d have to cut back his hours.
Just don’t have the money, Tom.
Tom hadn’t taken the news too well.
Could he have been angry enough to set the tractor on fire? Charlie was sure he could.
“You left and came back? What, had a few pints and thought you’d show me, hmm?”
“I came back,” Tom replied slowly, looking at the three of them standing in front of him, “Because I left some tools here that I needed for the weekend. I saw the fire and ran as fast as I could to put it out …”
“Sure. Right. Maybe that’s what you’d like me to believe, you—”
He held his tongue just in time, unwilling to swear in front of Sammy.
“You’re saying I started the fire then put it out? That makes no sense.”
“Oh yes it does.”
Charlie thought he had him now. He had read something about things like this.
“It’s that … that Baron something syndrome. Makes you look like a good guy now, don’t it? Tom, the bloody hero!”
“You’re losing it,” Tom said. Then to Caitlin. “I feel bad for you, Caitlin, having to put up with likes of him.”
That was it.
Charlie took a step, his hand bunching into a fist. But again Caitlin grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Charlie, please.”
“Know what?” he said.
“You’re fired. Take whatever’s yours, and get the bloody hell off Mabb’s Farm.”
“Too right, I will,” Tom said. “Pretty poor excuse for a farm anyway. You’d need good luck to get anything out of this dump and the only kind of luck you have, Charlie, is the other kind!”
And Tom turned, tossing aside the extinguisher with a noisy rattle, and walked back to his beaten-up car, a Fiesta with peeling paint and missing hubcaps.
As Caitlin and Charlie watched him leave, Charlie wondered about what he had just done.
Tom’s Fiesta shot up a spray of mud as he sped as fast as he could down the track that led back to the main road.
“Charlie,” Caitlin said. “What are we going to do now?”
Only then did Charlie turn to his wife, worry etched on her pretty face.
“We’ll carry on. Just … carry on.”
Charlie tried a grin but Caitlin’s face remained set.
“But Tom, he knew how to do things. How to work the machines, how to handle the animals.”
“I can do things,” Charlie said, though he could see from the look in her eyes that his words weren’t reassuring.
“And I can hire someone else.” He carried on. “Someone even better than Tom. There’s got to be a ton of people looking for work. Lots. I’ll get someone else who—”
“Part-time? At the pittance we can afford? Charlie, I don’t know.”
Charlie was about to say more reassuring words but stopped. If anything they seemed to have the reverse effect.
“Charlie, it’s this place.”
That stopped Charlie. He could see the tears forming in his wife’s eyes.
“All the bad luck we’ve had. You’ve said it yourself … it seems like something is wrong here.”
Charlie nodded at that.
Because yes, bad things seemed to happen all the time. Rats getting into the seed. Animals going sick. Machines that stopped working for no reason at all.
Lot of bad things.
Mabb’s Farm did seem cursed.
“I’ll find someone to help, Cait. Tomorrow, first thing. And I’ll keep looking till I get help. In the meantime we’ll manage … I’ll manage.”
Caitlin looked around.
“Charlie, where’s the herd?”
Bugger! He had left them on the hill, trying to get them to come back down.
But where were they now?
Charlie turned into the total darkness and raced back up the hill.
Unable this time to dodge the cow pats, he slipped his way up the hill, looking around desperately for his wandering cows, and, as sure as anything … feeling cursed.
Sarah had the radio on loud in the Rav-4, as the giddy weekend BBC host mined the catalogue of eighties and nineties hits, a time of big hair and big dreams, now being played for an audience for whom the hopes and parties had probably ended.
She had the volume up since the car felt far too quiet: Daniel and Chloe were sitting silently in the back, glumly staring out of the window.
Sarah was usually able to deflect most Sunday lunch invites from her parents, but they did have to make an appearance from time to time, and this visit was well overdue.
It wasn’t going there that was the problem, it was the fact that every time they did, her parents seemed intent on inviting some random single man from Cherringham or a nearby village, practising their own form of awkward matchmaking.
It could make for some terribly long Sunday lunches.
Though Sarah implored her parents to please; cease and desist! they carried on as if she was telling them quite the opposite.
Getting the kids to go was also an issue. They had friends, activities; their lives just didn’t stop on Sunday.
It wasn’t so bad for Daniel. He was still at the age where he could spend hours looking at her father’s massive collection of toy soldiers, all arrayed on life-like landscapes, many painted by her father, himself.
Daniel didn’t even mind the history lesson that came with examining the grenadiers with the long rifles, or the tiny Moorish invaders with silvery curved swords.
Nothing much to engage a teenage girl there, though Sarah’s parents adored her.
Sarah’s mum’s one passion was cooking, and though she would try to enlist Chloe’s help, Chloe had less than zero interest in the intricacies of preparing a big Sunday lunch.
Now if Jamie Oliver was manning the Aga, that might be a different story.
“Mum,” Chloe said, making no show of hiding a tone of petulance, “can you please lower that. What kind of music is it anyway?”
Sarah lowered it, opting not to engage Chloe in a debate of David Bowie versus No Direction.
Or was it One Direction?
Funny, how when you become a parent you suddenly fall out of the ‘know’ so fast, all hipness vanishing at the birth.
“Almost there guys,” Sarah said with forced cheer.
She looked in the rear-view mirror but neither child gave a response.
And all Sarah could think was, Lord — or someone! — give me strength!
“Sarah!” her mum said, “We’d nearly given up on you. Just about to sit down.”
Sarah had, of course, timed her arrival so that they could smoothly segue into the actual dinner prontissimo, minimizing the time spent with any male straggler roped into the free meal with an available, if completely unwilling, female.
But when she walked into the dining room — set formally, two tapered candles on the table, the good silverware as usual, with gleaming white plates and carefully folded napkins — she saw that the attendees today were different.
“Sarah, just in time!”