The Sweet Taste of Murder

Death Strikes the Leafy Glades of Gloucestershire

“I must be a horrible person,” Sandy whispered.  “All I can think is that the floor in there is going to be a pig to clean…” 

Her wedding day ruined, confectioner Sandy Stapely did not think things could get any worse until she arrives at work at ‘Sandy’s Candies’ to find a police raid in progress and a messy corpse cluttering up the premises!  The police seem to think Sandy is hiding guilty secrets, so she and her best friend Maggie resolve to set them straight.  

As if her life was not complicated enough, Sandy finds she has a growing attraction to the good-looking investigator, MacDuff, from the National Crime Agency.

An arsonist, sinister Eastern Europeans, and a kidnapper join in the mayhem as Sandy and Maggie – with some help from MacDuff – struggle to work out what’s going on and, of course, answer the question ‘whodunnit’.

Read on for an excerpt from ‘The Sweet Taste of Murder’

Copyright © 2019 David Wallace

Chapter 1

Sandy felt herself approaching the point where one more person using a phrase bearing so much as a passing resemblance to ‘the happiest day of your life’, would make her scream.  She mentally squashed that idea as quickly as it had materialised.  I will do no such thing, she told herself. Stop being silly. It was a crazy notion.  After all, anyone who said it was simply wishing her well, which was nice.   Nice deserved thanks, not an outpouring of her private worries.  So, even though she felt nagging doubts, she would keep them to herself.

I’m going to get married this afternoon.

That would come as a great relief to her mother, who had been expressing the desire for grandchildren before she – meaning her mother – was too old to enjoy them. Her mother had steadily become more and more annoying with her hints on the subject, though Sandy would never dream of saying anything out loud about it.  Her mother was an intimidating woman.  Sandy was fairly sure she wasn’t the only one who thought so.

This will be a fantastic day, she told herself, firmly.  Everything is set, and everyone is looking forward to it.  She was doing her best to ignore the odd negative thought that dared to surface. 

She was in a room in the Hilton hotel a short distance from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, where the ceremony and reception were going to take place.  She had been up early so that she and her matron of honour Maggie could have their hair and make-up done over a leisurely champagne breakfast before getting into what Maggie insisted on calling their ‘fancy dress costumes’.  Now, though, she was starting regret allowing herself too much time to think.

Sandy’s eye fell on the wedding cake topper in its box on a table, and she made a tut-tut sound.  Maggie was supposed to have taken that down to the wedding organiser to go – where else? – on top of the cake.  But Maggie had gone down already carrying a box filled with place cards and hand-made ‘Sandy’s Candies’ wedding favours and had forgotten to pick up the topper.  It had been given to Sandy by her mother, who professed to love the design – an artistic combination of graceful swans’ necks and interlocked hearts that Maggie had made Sandy laugh by describing as ‘Cthulhu erupting from a wedding cake’. 

“I’m going to want something to cheer me up,” she muttered to herself as she pulled on a voluminous bathrobe.  “I’ll want this in my line of sight during the speeches.”  She grabbed the box and made for the stairs.

*

            The hotel consisted of two buildings linked by a glass corridor.  The wedding venue was in the older part, the Manor House, but Sandy saw no sign of any staff members there, so she hurried along the glass corridor to the modern hotel block.  She cut through the bar and crossed the dining room where a few patrons finishing breakfast gave her bathrobe odd looks.  At the far end were doors into the main kitchens.  Sandy could see through the window in the doors that there seemed to be nobody in the kitchen, but at the far end, sitting on a trolley ready to be delivered to the Manor House, was her three-tier white wedding cake. She hurried across and set down the cake topper next to the cake where it couldn’t be missed.  She intoned, ” ‘In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.’, ” and giggled to herself. It was then that she heard the noises coming from a store room beyond the cake.

Sandy had never considered herself to be a prude or an innocent, though she knew that many acquaintances thought her exactly that.  She recognised the rhythmic meaty slapping sounds and the grunts and moans at once.   Someone’s having fun, she thought with a grin.  Then she stiffened in disbelief as she heard a breathless female voice:  “Oh, you are bad, you really are… yes! Yes!  Right there, harder!  You shouldn’t … no, don’t stop, you bad boy.  Harder – do it! Do it!  Do it to me, Todd.”

Todd?

She screamed, but only inside her head. With a trembling hand she pushed the store room door a little wider and peeked inside.

*

In the gloom of the storeroom it was not easy to see clearly, but Sandy saw enough.  A pair of buttocks, bone white in the dim light from the open door, were pistoning back and forth. A waitress was bent over, her white knickers and dark tights round her ankles, her white breasts swaying in time to the thrusts of the man behind her.

“Oh, yes, baby, yes!” The deep voice was unmistakeably Todd’s.  Sandy retreated with traitorous tears prickling her eyes. Neither of them had noticed her.  She took a deep breath.

I’ll soon change that, she thought.  She eyed the white cake. 

I’m not going to need that, now, am I?

She lifted off the top tier, wishing she had listened to her mother and chosen the heavy fruit cake instead of the light sponge.  She pushed the storeroom door with her foot and launched the cake.  Her aim was true.  It hit the back of Todd’s head with a damp smack, making him headbutt the woman in the back of her head with a thud.

“What the fuck?”  Todd sounded outraged.

“Jeez, my head!  What are you doing, Todd?” the waitress demanded.  Todd extricated himself from her and, pulling up his trousers, glared around to find out what was happening.

“Sandy!”  he gaped at her.  “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

The second tier of the cake caught him in the centre of the face.

“Shouldn’t that be my line?” Sandy said.  Then she thought of a better come-back.  “Consider yourself dumped, Todd.”

Okay, that sounded better inside my head than outside, she thought.

“Come on, Sand,” Todd’s voice had a pleading note.  “Don’t be like that.  Don’t be hasty.  We need to talk.”

“No, Todd, we don’t need to talk.”

The third tier of the cake was more awkward to handle and though she was aiming for Todd, she missed, and it whacked the waitress in the face.

“You’ve done all your talking with your dick already.  There’s nothing left to say except goodbye.  Goodbye, Todd.”

“You don’t mean that, babe,” he said.  “If you meant it, you’d be screaming abuse at me, wouldn’t you?” He plastered a grin on his face.  “There’s hope for us.”

She glared at him, but her voice was icy cold.  “I’m screaming abuse on the inside of my head.  You’re finished, Todd.”  She pulled off her engagement ring and tossed it into a waste bin.  “You’re dumped, and you’re fired.  Clear your desk at the office before Monday morning and leave all your keys behind.  I never want to set eyes on you, ever again.”

“But babe, we can’t disappoint all the people who’ve come to our wedding.  Come on, Sand, be reasonable.  Let’s get through today, then we can talk about it.”

Sandy picked up a Chinese chef’s knife from a chopping board behind her. 

“Leave, Todd,” she said coldly.  “Otherwise I’ll let this knife do the talking.”

The girl from the storeroom screamed and penguin-walked out the back door, wasting no time on pulling up her underwear, and falling flat on her face as she tried to negotiate the step.

Chapter 2

Later in the day, the wedding venue was beginning to fill up with guests, and Sandy’s phone was buzzing constantly with messages and incoming calls.

Maggie let herself into the hotel’s bridal suite.

“Hey, Sand,” she called out to the closed bathroom door.  “You in there?  You holding up okay?” 

There was no reply, but Maggie heard water run as a tap was turned on.  “I’m assuming the running water means you’re washing off the war-paint and getting ready.  People are arriving, and rumours are going around.  Have you worked out what you’re going to do? Do you want me to talk to people, and start sending folks away?  Do you want me to talk to your mother for you?”

The bathroom lock snapped open and Sandy emerged, looking tired and pale, wearing a red shirt and black jeans.

“Thanks, Mags,” she said, “but I need to hold my head up and speak for myself.  And I owe it myself to handle the she-devil myself this time.  Oh, crap, on second thoughts, mother can wait – I’ll avoid her for now.”

She strode across the room carrying a big bundle of ivory cloth which she thrust into a rubbish bin.  Maggie realised it was the wedding dress. 

“The registrar got the message about not coming,” said Maggie.  “She wanted to know if you were sure.  I told her you’d found the groom shagging the help in the pantry, and she said something about hoping the woman had the clap in that case.”

“I like that lady,” said Sandy with a faint smile.  “Come on, I need to do this before I chicken out.”

“My offer stands,” Maggie said.  “I can tell people for you.”

“Your offer is appreciated, but if I don’t do it, I’ll not be able to hold my head up and look people in the eye again.”

“Sand, babe, you never look people in the eye, let’s face it. Well in that case, here,” Maggie said, and poured two large glasses of clear fluid.  “Strictly medicinal, of course.”

*

Downstairs, in the room set aside for the ceremony, and just outside, people were milling about and there was a buzz of conversation.  Silence fell for a few moments as Maggie and Sandy appeared. 

“Take a seat, everyone,” Maggie called out. 

The buzz of conversation intensified, and it was obvious that speculation was rife about the absence of the groom.

Sandy walked to the front of the room and turned to face everyone as they sat.  She was unable to meet anyone’s eye, especially not that of her mother who was doing her best to look like she knew exactly what was going on.   But though she was naturally shy, she did have experience of addressing meetings.  She had a technique for this.  She took a deep breath, steeled herself, and picked out a spot on the far wall for her gaze to fix on.

“I have an announcement,” she said. “I’ll keep it brief, so don’t worry too much.”

She gulped from her glass of neat vodka and took another deep breath.  “There will not be a wedding today.”

The voices in the room rose in volume.

“Is Todd ill?”  “Is Todd okay?”  “What’s happened to Todd?”

“Has he backed out?”

Her mother’s querulous voice cut through the rest.  “We need to talk, Alexandra.”

Maggie’s voice cut through, louder than all the others.

“Can you all be quiet and let Sandy talk?”

Sandy resumed.  “I don’t want anybody pitying me as the archetypal jilted bride.  Because I’m not.  Earlier today, I realised that things were not going to work out.  Basically, I threw Todd out of the hotel, and out of my life.  For good.  That’s it, I told you I’d keep it brief.  Now, since the catering all needs to be paid for regardless, lunch and partying will still take place as planned, it’s just that it won’t be a wedding, it’ll be a celebration of my narrow escape.  Oh – and I’m sorry but there won’t be any wedding cake either.”  Sandy giggled a little, recalling the look on the waitress’s face, before concluding.  “If you will all excuse me, I have an appointment in the bar with a wine bottle.  I hope to see you all at lunch.”

*

Much later, Sandy and Maggie slouched on sofas in the link corridor between the Manor House and the main building, their feet up on a table.   The sound of a disco playing seventies soul could be heard in the background.

“How many people stayed, do you think?” Sandy wondered.

“Most of them,” said Maggie.  “His family just didn’t turn up, so he obviously caught them in time.  A few of his friends who don’t really know you left after your speech.  But most of the people invited were your friends and family, and we’re all right behind you, Sand.  I mean, even your mother stuck it out.”

“Fucking right,” Sandy slurred.

“Sandy Stapely! That was a very bad word!” Maggie said in mock reproach.

“Well, I’ve had a very bad day,” Sandy said in a voice containing a hint of defensiveness and noticeable slurring. 

The two friends sat in silence for a while, as the disco music segued to the eighties.

“I never really liked him, you know” said Maggie suddenly.

“What?  Why didn’t you say something?” asked Sandy.

“You were so happy,” said Maggie.  “I didn’t want to risk changing that and make you unhappy when all I had was a vague feeling about him.”

“Don’t give me that, Mags.  It would need more than vague feelings to make you dislike him.  Come on, out with it.  What did he do?”

“At the last work Christmas do, he groped me and tried to get into my knickers.”

“He didn’t!”

“He certainly did.  And this was after the two of you had gotten engaged.  He said that since you and I were such good friends, it would be all right.  Like two best friends sharing a toy.  I told him in no uncertain terms that it certainly would not be all right.  But then I wondered if I’d maybe been sending out, you know, mixed signals, and it was my fault.”

“Oh my God! After that party he suggested I should be making what he called ‘more sophisticated friends’.  He was hinting that you weren’t good enough to be my friend, and I told him to stop it.”

“The bastard,” Maggie said.  “Because I wouldn’t play along, he…he tried… to…”  She huffed out a breath.  “I’m not the only one, either.”

“What?”

“He tried it on with at least two others that I know about,” Maggie said.  “You remember Hilary that was in the post room for a few weeks?  She quit because of him.”

“Maggie Doone!  You really should have told me about that!  That’s harassment.”

“Hilary didn’t want to make a fuss about it over what was just a part time job.”

“That’s not the point.  What else was going on behind my back, I wonder?”

“Well, it’s over now, anyway,” said Maggie.  “Water under the duck’s back.”

“That’s not how that saying works.”

“Who the hell cares? You know exactly what I meant, so it worked just fine, didn’t it?”

“Oh, Maggie, you must thing I’m the stupidest, most naïve person in the history of the world,” Sandy started crying.  “Sorry, Mags, it’s just all catching up to me.  I had this feeling it was too true to be good.”

“There, there, babe, you’re the best friend ever, I couldn’t think anything bad about you at all, even if I tried really hard,” replied Maggie.  “Now come on, it’s been a right shit day, but it’s over now. Come along, I’ll help you to bed.”

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