Mrs. Jeffries must help Inspector Witherspoon crack a new case and catch a killer in this next installment of the beloved Victorian Mystery series.
Successful businessman Jeremy Marks wasn’t highly regarded by any of the members of the West London Archery Club. Most of them considered him a buffoon and a bore. But everyone was stunned when the fellow was murdered during a lull in the club’s annual archery competition. He’d been shot with arrows from a longbow during a raging thunderstorm.
But those who knew Marks well understood that the unkempt "court jester" persona adopted by the late, unlamented man was as fake as the smile he wore. As Inspector Witherspoon investigates the murder, he discovers the victim had real enemies among the assembled archery contestants. Marks was notorious for not paying his bills, cheating vendors, bad-mouthing business rivals, and worst of all, betraying his business partners. The dead man had built a whole career and amassed quite a substantial fortune by harming those who trusted him. It will take Mrs. Jeffries and the inspector’s household as well as their friends to sort out fact from fiction and target a killer.
Release date: August 29, 2023
Print pages: 320
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Mrs. Jeffries Aims to Win
"What's wrong now?" Luty Belle Crookshank put her champagne glass on the table and frowned at the tall, white-haired man sitting opposite her. "You've been starin' out that window for the last ten minutes. Glarin' at the storm ain't goin' to make it let up any quicker."
"That's easy for you to say, madam," Hatchet replied. "You're not the one who didn't get to compete. I've been practicing for weeks now and most of the Ladies' Division had finished. I was the first in my category to shoot, and if they'd let us stay out for five more minutes, I would have had my chance." He flicked a piece of lint off the sleeve of his jacket, picked up his tea, and took a sip.
Luty, a tiny, elderly American with snow-white hair, blue eyes, and a love of flashy clothes, shook her head. "If you'd stayed out for five more minutes, ya coulda been struck by lightning, and your outfit would have been ruined." She was dressed in a bright red cotton skirt with a wide blue cummerbund waist and a lacy white blouse with a high collar and puffy sleeves. Gold-and-pearl earrings dangled from her ears, and a gold broach in the shape of a frog playing a harmonica was pinned over her heart.
Hatchet glanced down at the blazer he wore over his starched white shirt. It was a deep green so dark that it almost looked black. His flat wide-brimmed matching cap was on the table next to Luty's gloves. "I'm not certain that would have been so bad."
He wasn't used to the garments they were required to wear for the competition. They were undignified, but when he'd mentioned the matter to Luty, she'd merely scoffed and said that wearing something other than his usual attire of black stovepipe trousers, white shirt, cravat, and old-fashioned black frockcoat was good for him. He'd decided it was pointless to argue with the woman, since her love of fashion made it impossible for her to understand that wearing different clothing made him uncomfortable.
The two of them were sitting by the window table in the common room of the West London Archery Club. Hatchet, who was supposedly Luty's butler, was drinking tea while Luty had opted for a glass of champagne. They'd come here so that Hatchet could compete in the annual archery contest, but owing to the sudden, vicious storm, everyone was now inside waiting and hoping for the bad weather to pass.
"I know you're disappointed and it don't seem fair that you had to miss your turn, but the contest ain't over." She glanced at the well-dressed men and women crowding around tables and milling about the huge room. She recognized a large number of people, most of whom were acquaintances rather than friends. "Archery ain't my cup of tea, but it's a better sport than horse racing. You can lose your shirt bettin' on the ponies."
"I'm not doing it just for the sport," Hatchet pointed out. "You know my doctor insisted I get more exercise, and archery is perfect. It provides the right amount of physical activity without making one desperately hot and miserable. You know how hard I've practiced, madam, and it isn't fair that my category was suddenly shoved to the end of the competition instead of at the beginning as is the normal custom." He jerked his chin toward the rain-streaked window. "If it had gone the way it was supposed to, I'd already be finished . . ."
"And you'd have first place," Luty teased.
"Possibly, madam, possibly," Hatchet replied.
The two of them had more than an employer-employee relationship. They had a strong bond, and it was because of this bond that Luty had used her considerable influence to get him accepted as a member. The archery club wasn't as class-ridden as most of London's athletic establishments, but they didn't encourage servants to join.
Luty knew every member of the Board and the Membership Committee, and as they wanted her to become a member, they agreed he could be one as well.
"Come on now, you know with the weather turnin' so fast that lettin' the young ladies shoot first was the right thing to do." Luty picked up her champagne flute and took a sip.
"Nonsense, madam, those young women all looked quite sturdy to me, as a matter of fact-"
"Look, look," she interrupted, "there he is." She nodded toward a portly, balding man in gold-rimmed pince-nez eyeglasses as he stepped through the main door and into the crowded room.
"There who is?" Hatchet frowned irritably.
"Jeremy Marks, the fella I told ya about," Luty said softly. "The one everyone hates. I told ya what I overheard in the cloakroom."
"Refresh my memory, madam."
"There ain't nothin' wrong with your memory, Hatchet. Just admit it, you weren't listening to me," Luty accused. "But that's alright, I don't listen to you half the time, either. Like I told ya earlier, I was in the cloakroom gettin' my handkerchief and Mrs. McElhaney and another lady showed up. They stood just inside the door, which was open, and they didn't see me. They was too busy watchin' Jeremy Marks."
"How do you know they were watching the man?"
"At first I didn't, but then Alice McElhaney started talking to the other lady and she was madder than a wet hen. She kept sayin' that Marks wasn't supposed to be here, that he'd been banned from the club."
"Why was he banned?"
"She didn't say and I couldn't exactly ask, now, could I? But she went on and on about him. Kept tellin' the other lady what a no-good pole cat he was . . ."
"No-good pole cat?" Hatchet stared at her skeptically. "Mrs. McElhaney, an upper-class Englishwoman, used that expression?"
"Not those exact words, she used English insults, but the meanin' was the same," Luty shot back. "Anyways, her friend wasn't much help to her. She told Mrs. McElhaney that since Marks and Hannah Lonsdale had announced their engagement, she was bringing him here as a guest and they couldn't keep him out. Then Mrs. McElhaney said that she'd heard he was back but she hadn't wanted to believe it. But just in case it was true, she had a way to fix him. Once she had a chat with Hannah Lonsdale, he'd get what he deserved."
Hatchet crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you telling me that these two women had that kind of conversation with you standing there? That's not very discreet."
"I already told ya, they wasn't lookin' my way. They was starin' out at the corridor and watchin' Jeremy Marks."
"They didn't so much as glance into the cloakroom?"
"Well, they might not have realized I was standing there," she muttered as she watched Jeremy Marks. He weaved his way among the tables until he reached the door at the far end of the room. "I sort of moved back behind the rack of coats and jackets. I mean, I didn't want to embarrass the two ladies; I didn't want them knowin' their unkind words had been overheard."
"Nonsense, madam, you were out-and-out eavesdropping, weren't you? Come now, admit it."
"What if I was?" She glared at him. "You do it whenever it suits you, and you gotta admit, my being able to blend in with the woodwork has come in right handy on a number of other occasions."
She was referring to the fact that both she and Hatchet often helped out their friend, Inspector Gerald Witherspoon. He'd solved more homicides than anyone in the history of the Metropolitan Police Department. Naturally, he had no idea he was the recipient of such generous assistance and they, along with all the members of his household, were determined to keep it that way.
"Yes, but that's when we've been out and about on our investigations." He gestured around the room. "We don't have a murder now. This is a social activity."
"All the better to pick up a few useful bits and pieces." Luty grinned. "Besides, you never know when somethin' is goin' to happen."
A crash of thunder boomed overhead. It was so loud, half the room jumped. Hatchet leaned closer to the window. "Blast and drat, the storm is not going to end anytime soon and now it's as dark as midnight out there."
"Don't exaggerate." Luty took another sip. "You know what the weather here is like. It can be black as a coal miner's face, and ten minutes later, the sun's come out. Besides, the rain's been comin' and goin' since we came inside."
"Yes, but the lulls never last more than a few minutes," he complained.
A waiter pushing a tea trolley rolled up to their table. "More tea, sir?" he asked Hatchet.
"No thanks, this is sufficient."
"Would you care for more champagne, madam?" he asked Luty.
She shook her head and pointed to the door at the far end of the common room. "Where does that door lead?" On the previous two occasions she'd come to the club, she'd stayed out on the grass watching Hatchet.
"Outside, ma'am. There's a passageway to the practice room and from there out onto the range." He rolled the trolley over to the next table.
“There, there he is. I told you it was him. Good gracious, with all the money the fellow supposedly has, one has to wonder what makes him indulge in such nasty, cheap behavior.” Chester Atwood nudged his companion in the ribs and then pointed to the target closest to the practice room.
They were standing on the small porch next to the stairs leading down to the kitchen waiting for a break in the rain. Despite the lulls between downpours, there was never enough time for them to get out to retrieve their arrows.
"Are you sure it's him?" Horace Miller's eyes narrowed behind his wire-rimmed spectacles. He jerked as another burst of thunder crashed overhead. "How can you see anything out there? It's too dark."
"Of course I'm sure. Just how bad is your eyesight, Horace?" Chester gave him an irritable look. "Honestly, you really ought to get your eyes examined again . . ." He broke off as he spotted Marks shining a lantern along the ground while he slowly made his way across the grass in front of the target. "What on earth is he doing?"
"Oh, I see him now, Good Lord, you're right, it's him, and you know good and well what he's doing out there. That's why we came dashing out here."
"This is all Matilda and Harriet's fault," he complained. "Between my daughter and your niece, we've half a dozen expensive arrows out there and that blackguard is going to get his hands on them if we don't take action. Good gracious, why on earth did they let him through the front door?"
"Good old Jeremy always finds his way back in," Chester muttered. "My wife told me at breakfast this morning that now that Marks is engaged to Miss Lonsdale, she can bring him as a guest. Once they're married, the Board will give him back his membership. They'll not want to offend the Lonsdale family."
"I think we should confront him," Horace declared.
"Don't be ridiculous. Unless he's got one of our arrows in his fat little fist, he'll simply claim he was looking for a cuff link or his purse or some such other nonsense. The man's a liar as well as a thief."
"I wish he'd go away for good. He's been here as long as I can remember, and no matter how dreadful his behavior, he always manages to keep his hand in." Horace shook his head in disgust. "What's he doing now?"
Marks had turned and, still keeping the lantern low, was going back the way he'd just come. When he reached the other side of the target, he turned again and moved slowly across the grass toward the main building. His pudgy frame was bent forward, holding the lantern as close to the ground as possible while he crept along.
"Why is he doing that?" Horace continued. "It's dark out there but he should be able to see without that lantern."
"Maybe he's going blind," Chester snapped. "But blind or not, if he picks up one of mine, I'm going out there and taking it back."
"God knows why he wants them," Horace complained. "He's such a bad archer, they'll be of no use to him."
"That won't stop him. He loves getting his paws on anything that's expensive. The broadheads alone cost a fortune."
"They should never have let him on the premises. If it wasn't pouring rain, I'd confront the bastard myself. How dare he?"
"It's not actually raining now." Chester looked up at the sky. "And the wind has died down. Should we go out there?" Despite his bravado, he didn't relish the idea of confronting the man.
By this time, Marks had reached the place where the archers took their shooting positions. Then he turned quickly and walked slowly back the way he'd come again, this time bending so low with the lantern that the base brushed the top of the grass.
Chester cleared his throat. "Well, we can't really accuse him of stealing our arrows at this point. He's not picked any up, and besides, Matilda and Harriet were shooting at the two targets on this end of the range . . ." His voice trailed off as lightning flashed in the distance, momentarily illuminating the sky.
"True, and if Marks sees us out there watching him, perhaps he'll realize he'd better behave himself."
By this time, Marks was back where he'd started, in front of the target. Then he turned and began walking toward the one next to it, which was a good ten feet away.
"The lull in the storm is lasting," Horace said as another streak of lightning split across the whole sky, illuminating the area. Moments passed as flash after flash followed in succession then they waited for the inevitable booms of thunder. When he could be heard, he said, "Come on, let's get our arrows now. I don't care if Marks sees us. I'm disgusted with the fellow."
He broke off as he realized that Chester wasn't listening but instead was staring at a spot between the two targets, his expression one of horror. "Good Lord, man, what's gotten into you? What's wrong?"
Chester pointed at Jeremy Marks. But the man wasn't moving about anymore. His lantern was on its side on the grass and he himself was lying next to it. But even in the dim light of the waning storm, it was obvious there was an arrow sticking out of Marks' neck.
“What’s goin’ on?” Luty muttered as two soaking wet men charged into the common room.
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