Ice cream and incidents, p.2

Ice Cream and Incidents, page 2

 part  #13 of  Peridale Cafe Cozy Mystery Series

 

Ice Cream and Incidents
 


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  Before Julia could forewarn her gran, a megaphone-assisted voice announced that the raffle was about to be drawn. With the energy of a woman half her age, Dot sprang up with no assistance and opened the back cover of the book to reveal five full sheets of raffle tickets.

  “How much did they cost?” Julia asked as Dot looped her arm through hers.

  “Not a lot,” Dot said airily as she dragged Julia towards the path. “The grand prize is a mystery holiday! Much better than last year when I only went home with a coupon for your café.”

  “Not that you ever pay,” Julia reminded her.

  They emerged from the path and re-joined the fête. Everyone had left their stalls and were gathered around the raffle table, which had been set up in front of the large church doors. Amy Clark, the church organist, was standing on a stool behind the array of prizes, a megaphone in her hand. She adjusted her baby pink cardigan and brushed down the pleats in her powder blue skirt as she waited for everyone to gather.

  “I hope you all have your tickets handy,” Amy announced, her voice crackling through the megaphone. “The raffle has already raised a record amount, so I’d like to thank everyone who has bought a ticket.” Amy glanced over to Dot, who was passing the sheets down to Julia, and nodding for her to pass them on to Barker, Alfie, and Jessie, who had joined them in the crowd. “And I’d also like to thank everyone who has donated prizes. We have a fantastic array of goodies to be won this year, including a holiday!”

  An oooh! swept across the crowd, and Julia noticed that everyone was holding at least three tickets. Julia looked down at the page she had, which included twenty tickets with all the numbers between forty and sixty printed on them.

  “You bought one hundred tickets?” Julia whispered to her gran. “You’re beyond belief!”

  “A holiday, Julia!” Dot whispered back out of the corner of her mouth. “Amy has been hyping it up for weeks. I wasn’t going to let somebody else win it, was I? It’s as good as free.”

  Father David plucked the first winning ticket from a box and passed it to Amy. She unfolded it before announcing that the winning ticket for a free afternoon tea for two at Julia’s café was number thirty-seven.

  “That’s me!” Dot announced. “I won it!”

  Dot carefully detached the winning ticket, but Julia took it from her gran and passed it to the nearest person in the crowd, who just so happened to be Shannon Crump, a barmaid from the local pub.

  “That’s mine!” Dot cried.

  “You can have a free afternoon tea any time you like,” Julia reminded her, nodding to Shannon to claim her prize. “And you do, regularly.”

  Dot huffed but allowed Shannon to keep the ticket. Over the course of the draw, Dot won a toaster, a coffee machine, a free meal at The Comfy Corner restaurant, a free pub lunch at The Plough, coupons for several boutiques on Mulberry Lane, and even a massage at a gym outside the village. When it came time for the grand prize drawing, most people were sending daggers in Dot’s direction, not that she seemed to notice. With her remaining tickets clutched in her hand, she looked hopefully at the stage as she waited for the announcement.

  “And now for the mystery holiday!” Amy announced, pulling an envelope from the table. “A holiday for four people next weekend! It’s quite exciting, and the perfect finale to our fête. Which one of you lucky people is going to win?” Amy glanced awkwardly at Dot, and Julia could tell Amy was praying that someone else won. Father David plucked a ticket from the box and passed it to Amy. After unfolding it, she let out a relieved smile and looked out into the crowd. “Number one hundred and twenty-one!”

  Dot looked down at her own tickets, and then Julia’s.

  “What do they go up to?” Dot asked down to the line. “Hurry!”

  “One hundred and twenty,” Jessie said, holding up the final sheet. “You’re one off!”

  Dot’s eyes darted open, and her jaw slackened. She looked around the crowd, half the eyes staring back at her, and the other half rummaging through their own tickets.

  “Oh!” Evelyn exclaimed with a giddy hop. “It’s me! I won!”

  For the first time since the draw had started, there was a smattering of applause. Dot watched as Evelyn pushed through the crowd, her kaftan floating behind her.

  “I bet she foresaw that number was going to win!” Dot said as she ripped up her remaining tickets. “Well, that’s one hundred pounds down the drain!”

  “You spent a hundred quid?” Alfie asked, half laughing, half shocked. “Dot!”

  “They were a pound each,” Dot replied with a wave of her hand. “And it was for a holiday!”

  “And a good cause,” Jessie added. “And it’s not like you’re going home empty-handed, is it?”

  Julia watched as Amy handed the winning envelope to Evelyn, who had a beaming smile until the white paper touched her fingers. Her expression morphed into something that scared Julia, and for a moment, she wondered if Evelyn had suddenly fallen ill. Nonetheless, she posed for Johnny Watson to take a picture for The Peridale Post and retreated to her spot at the back of the crowd.

  “Well, that’s that,” Dot said with a heavy sigh. “At least I’ll get some free meals out of it.”

  The crowd parted, and people returned to their stalls to finish up the last hour of the fête. Julia walked back to her cake stall, and her father looked more than a little relieved to hand back the key for the mini safe. He re-joined Katie behind her tan bottles, not that it seemed like she had sold anything since Evelyn.

  “If I’d just bought one more ticket!” Dot cried as she plucked a cupcake from Julia’s stall without offering to pay for it. “Just one! What are the odds?”

  But before Dot had even taken a bite out of her cupcake, Evelyn shuffled over, the envelope in her shaking hands, and a grim expression on her face. Julia smiled at her, but Evelyn could barely return it.

  “I want you to have this,” Evelyn said, forcing the envelope into Dot’s hands. “I couldn’t go on that holiday in good faith. You wanted it, after all, and I only bought one ticket.”

  “Evelyn, you don’t have to do that,” Julia said with a reassuring smile. “You won it.”

  “I sense something dark within this envelope,” Evelyn whispered, as though she was delivering a secret prophecy. “Perhaps it was the spirits telling me that Dot should have won, or they were forewarning me of something else, but it is not in my cards to go on that holiday. Please, Dot. Take it. Just be careful. What I felt might not have been solely exclusive to my destiny.”

  With that, Evelyn turned and hurried away. She quickly packed up her stall before running back across the village green to her B&B.

  “You can’t keep that,” Julia said as she folded her arms. “It’s not fair.”

  “You heard the woman!” Dot cried, a smile returning to her face. “It was my destiny to have this, and I don’t feel anything dark. In fact, I feel something positively beaming within here. Oh, please let it be a cruise!”

  Dot ripped the envelope open and pulled out a sheet of paper, a frenzied look in her eyes as she excitedly unfolded it. It only took reading one line for her excitement to drop.

  “Blackpool?” Dot cried, turning to look in Amy’s direction, who was packing up the raffle table. “A week for four in Blackpool? That’s not a holiday! It’s not even out of the country!”

  “Blackpool is nice,” Katie offered meekly. “They have the tower, and the circus, and Madame Tussauds wax museum, and the sea, and the piers, and the rollercoasters, and the -,”

  “British weather!” Dot interrupted. “No wonder Evelyn felt something dark within this envelope. She was sparing herself the disappointment!”

  “You’ll probably enjoy it,” Julia said, trying to conceal her amusement as she watched Dot read the rest of the letter. “A week by the sea will do you a world of good.”

  Dot considered Julia’s words for a moment before folding up the paper and stuffing it back in the envelope.

  “Well, it
s a week of not using my electricity,” Dot said as she tucked the prize into the small handbag where the rest of her vouchers were stored. “And don’t look too pleased with yourself, Julia. You’re coming with me. You might as well bring your fiancé and Jessie too. There’s no point wasting three tickets.”

  “But I have the café,” Julia replied quickly with a shake of her head. “I can’t just –”

  “I’ll look after it!” Katie exclaimed enthusiastically. “We both will, won’t we, babe?”

  “We will?” Brian replied, looking at Julia unsurely. “If Julia doesn’t mind, I suppose.”

  “She doesn’t!” Katie cried, clapping her hands together. “Oh, this will be so much fun! It will finally get me out of that dusty old manor.”

  “I’m not sure,” Julia said, not wanting to hurt Katie’s feelings. “It’s not as easy as it looks, and there’s all the baking.”

  “I can bake,” Brian said confidently. “Your mother taught me a thing or two.”

  “She did?” Dot and Julia replied in unison, both sharing the same shocked look on their faces.

  “Go and have fun in Blackpool,” he said with a deep chuckle. “It’s only a week. What’s the worst that can happen?”

  “Oh, I’m a little excited now!” Dot said. “I suppose Blackpool is better than nowhere. I haven’t been since my honeymoon in 1952, so I suppose it will have changed quite a bit since then. I’ll tell the others.”

  Before Julia could protest, Dot hurried across to Barker’s table, where Jessie and Alfie were standing. She told Jessie and Barker, who both looked over at Julia with the same quizzical expression. She could only offer a shrug.

  “You won’t regret this!” Katie cried as she pulled Julia into a tight hug. “It’s going to be so much fun!”

  “I guess I’m going to Blackpool,” Julia muttered, her face mushed up against Katie’s ample chest.

  2

  Julia spent the next week attempting to teach Katie how to run the café, but by the day before they were due to leave, Katie had only just about wrapped her head around the buttons on the till. She had wanted to cancel the whole thing more than once, and the only thing that had stopped her was Katie’s unparalleled enthusiasm. Katie had said on more than one occasion how she was excited to have a ‘normal’ job for the first time in her life. Most people would have taken offence to such a statement, but Julia understood. Aside from a short-lived stint as a glamour model in her twenties, there had been no reason for Katie to have had to work. With the great Wellington fortune showing no signs of running out soon, the heiress’ need for a ‘normal’ job had never materialised.

  Julia woke with the singing birds on Friday morning after a night of restless sleep. She had weaved in and out of dreams that had focussed on her café being destroyed in various ways. As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she was sure the last dream had revolved around Katie somehow setting fire to the cakes in the display case and then trying to serve them to customers while still burning.

  By the time Julia jumped out of the shower, Barker and Jessie were also awake. A plate of freshly buttered hot toast and a cup of peppermint and liquorice tea greeted her in the kitchen; she was too touched to tell them her stomach was in knots, so she ate it anyway.

  Julia tried to say goodbye to Mowgli, but he hid under the bed as though he knew he was being deserted. She wondered if her father would even see Mowgli when he came in to feed him and clean his litter tray. After loading the cases into the back of Julia’s vintage aqua blue Ford Anglia, they drove down the winding lane into the village. The weather had remained beautiful since the fête, and there was not a cloud in the morning sky. Julia had checked the forecast for Blackpool, and it seemed the weather there was going to be just as clement, not that the forecast soothed her nerves about leaving her beloved café.

  After parking outside Dot’s cottage, Julia knocked on the front door after trying the handle. It was locked, but that was usual for Dot, especially recently. She had watched a documentary on ‘home invasions’ and was sure burglars were coming for her savings tin any day now. When Dot finally answered the door, Julia was taken aback by her gran’s appearance.

  “Morning, love,” Dot said with a croaky voice before dabbing at her nose with a handkerchief. She was still in her nightie and slippers. “I’m afraid I’ve come down with the dreaded lurgy. I’ve been up all night coughing and sneezing. You’re going to have to go without me.”

  Dot demonstrated a cough before rubbing her nose again as she stared at Julia without blinking. Julia did not need a degree in detection to see that her gran was lying and probably in tip-top health as usual.

  “Lurgy?” Barker echoed. “Isn’t that a made-up illness that people use when they want to get out of things?”

  “A cold then!” Dot exclaimed, her tone a little too loud. She seemed to catch her break of character, so she dabbed at her nose and hunched over before coughing. “Maybe even the flu. Poor Amy Clark has it too. I saw her in the post office yesterday. She sneezed all over me without covering her mouth. Quite rude! That’s how the zombies are going to get us, you know. People don’t have the common decency to keep their bugs to themselves these days.”

  “But you’ve been talking about nothing else all week,” Jessie said, a brow arched as she looked down her nose at Dot. “I thought we were going to have a fun week?”

  “I’m sure you will,” Dot said quickly, turning to look up the stairs as Alfie walked down with a large bag. “I’ve convinced Alfie to take my place.”

  Julia smiled at Alfie, even though a small part of her had been glad that Dot was feigning an illness. She had hoped it would be her perfect opportunity to call things off entirely. She knew there was still time to throw a spanner in the works, but Jessie looked too excited that her brother was coming, even if he seemed less sure to be taking Dot’s place.

  “You’ll need this.” Dot handed over the envelope with the voucher inside. “I called the B&B last night, and they’re expecting you this afternoon.”

  “Is something going on?” Julia asked with narrowed eyes. “I feel like you’re up to something.”

  Julia looked past her gran and spotted Barker’s book on the side table in the hallway. The dust cover showed Julia that she was three-quarters of the way in. Dot shuffled to the side, blocking her view.

  “You’re far too suspicious,” Dot said as she pushed Alfie over the threshold before closing the door to a crack. “Not everything requires an investigation, dear. Go! Have fun! You don’t need an old lady cramping your style.”

  The door closed, and Dot immediately locked it behind her. Julia even heard her slide the chain across as though she thought Julia would try to let herself in with her key.

  “She seemed fine last night,” Alfie whispered as he slung his bag over his shoulder. “She woke me up at the crack of dawn and told me to pack a bag. I thought she was kicking me out.”

  Julia stared at the curtain as it twitched. When she met Dot’s eyes, the curtains closed again.

  “Let’s set off,” Julia said, turning back to her car with an uneasy feeling about the whole affair. “We don’t want to get caught in the afternoon traffic.”

  During the three hour drive up to Blackpool, Alfie, a keen traveller who had visited most corners of the world, filled them in on the Lancashire coastal town’s history. Situated in the North West region of England, Blackpool’s popularity as a tourist destination had been cemented by the 1840s when railways connected it to the rest of the country. By the 1880s, the town had three piers and was famous for having bed and breakfasts, fortune tellers, fish and chip shops, theatres, pubs, and donkey rides on the beach, and they were all still there to this day. In 1894, the famous Blackpool Tower was built in the centre of the promenade. Despite never having visited the town, Julia knew about the 500 feet tall iron tower, which was an iconic symbol of Northern England.

  “It was modelled after the Eiffel Tower,” Alfie said, craning his neck from the back s
eat to look up at the large structure as they drove slowly along the promenade. “You can see it for miles around.”

  “It’s huge,” Jessie said. “I feel dizzy looking at it. Imagine that thing falling over.”

  “The Victorians planned for that,” Alfie said. “It’s been designed so that if it were to fall over, it would fall into the sea. It even sways in the wind rather than fighting against it. Just wait until we get to the top.”

  “To the t-top?” Jessie replied. “Are you crazy?”

  “You can’t go to Blackpool and not visit the top of the tower,” Alfie replied with a wink. “It’s been there for over a hundred and twenty years. Don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe.”

  “I’ll take your word for it.”

  “There’s a three storey building at the bottom too,” he continued. “That’s where the circus and the world-famous Tower Ballroom are.”

  Julia looked up at the tower, the rust-red iron structure contrasting brilliantly with the bright blue sky. Like Jessie, she felt dizzy trying to look all the way up. She looked back to the bright pink horse-drawn carriage they were following along the promenade. She had not known what to expect from Blackpool, but she had not expected it to be so busy. They had been crawling along at five miles per hour since reaching the seafront. She was sure she had heard that the tourist town’s popularity was in decline, but there were no signs of that as she looked around. The roads were packed with cars, the trams riding up and down in front of the beach appeared full, and she could even see people sunbathing on the long stretch of sand. The pavement in front of the B&Bs and shops to her right was bustling with hundreds of people. The fresh sea salt air drifted in through the rolled down windows, mixing pleasantly with the scent of freshly cooked fish and chips as they passed one of the many chippies they had driven past so far. When she spotted the Central Pier’s Ferris wheel, she knew they were nearing their destination.

 
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