Agatha and Toni were in the Raisin Investigations office, above an antique shop in one of the oldest lanes of central Mircester, when Toni eventually brought Agatha up to speed with her police statement. Agatha was leaning against the front of her over-large pseudo-Georgian desk while Toni hovered near the door, a sheaf of papers in her hand.
In her statement, Toni had laid out the whole story of their afternoon at Morrison's. They had been given lunch in the directors' dining room. At one point, Agatha had excused herself and gone to the loo. A young man, John Sayer, head of human resources, had asked Toni if Agatha was a good boss. Toni had praised Agatha but had said she was anxious to get away on time that evening because she had a date, and Agatha sometimes drove slowly, peering at the undergrowth at the side of the road and saying "Nice place to dump a body." And that on a couple of occasions she had been sure she had seen something and had insisted Toni leave the car and search through the trees and bushes with her.
"You put that in your statement?" said Agatha. "You told him I said that?"
"You say it all the time."
"I DO NOT say it all the time!"
"Yes you do. It's one of your worst habits."
"I DO NOT have...habits!" Agatha snarled.
Toni put the index finger and forefinger of her right hand to her mouth, pulled them away, and exhaled through pursed lips as though blowing out smoke.
"Smoking is not a habit," said Agatha. "It is a therapeutic aid to rational, logical thought. Not that you could be expected to know anything about that!"
Toni then had to endure a lecture about loyalty, dedication, duty, reliability, and how a trustworthy confidante never, ever talks about friends behind their backs.
"Haven't I been good to you?" demanded Agatha.
"Spare me the guilt trip," said Toni. "This is a good time to tell you. I want to have a personal life. I need a bit of time to myself."
"You've got it!" raged Agatha. "To think of all the times I have looked after you. Why, if it weren't for me, you'd be—"
"Oh, shut your stupid face!" yelled Toni. "You want my resignation?"
"No, she doesn't," came a pleasant masculine voice from the top of the stairs.
"Charles!" cried Agatha, recognising the voice of Sir Charles Fraith. "Where have you been?"
"I thought you might need some comfort after I read the Mircester Mail this morning."
Charles sauntered past Toni into the office. "Get me a coffee, Toni," said Agatha, dismissing the younger woman with a wave of her hand.
"Get it yourself," snapped Toni.
"I will speak to you later," said Agatha. "Let's go to the pub, Charles. I am weary and don't feel like coping with Toni's tantrums."
They crossed the lane and settled into two armchairs at a table inside the latticed window of the King Charles.
"What on earth came over Toni?" said Agatha. "I only gave her a mild ticking-off."
"You never give anyone a mild ticking-off. You are a fault-finder supreme. Out with it."
Agatha described how Toni had gossiped about Agatha's propensity to remark "Nice place to dump a body" almost every time they were on the road. Clearly some prankster had put the leg there in the hope that she would spot it and be made to look like a complete fool.
"You do, as a matter of fact," said Charles. "Not look like a complete fool. I mean, you do say that thing about a nice place to dump a body. But I'm sure you reminded Toni of all she owed you, and no one likes emotional blackmail, so she became furious as well. I sometimes think you don't value people enough. You often bark commands at me as if I'm one of your detectives. And what did your Heathrow Romeo think when you dumped him after a week?"
"I neither know nor care," said Agatha. "The man was intolerable. He wanted me to travel the world with him like we were on one long, endless holiday. What sort of madness is that? He may have decided to retire and travel, but I have far more life left in me than that. I have a business to run, employees, responsibilities."
"Really," said Charles, nodding. Agatha could tell by that flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth that he knew she wasn't actually telling him the truth. He would wait, and they both knew that she would tell him eventually. Right now, she wasn't prepared to admit that she had plunged herself into an engagement with a man whom she very quickly discovered had a string of other fiancées around the world—Stella in New York, Carrie in Cape Town, Barbara in Brisbane. And those were only the three she had found out about. There were bound to be more. He must have been buying diamond engagement rings in bulk. Well, he could keep hers. She'd shoved it in his ear while he was recovering from a ferocious slap in the face, before she kicked him out the front door.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book A Full Cold Moon by Lissa Marie Redmond.