Enigma of Fire
As the season of Pentecost approaches, Berdie Elliott's husband, Aidan Kirkwood's village vicar, prepares for the Whitsun Long Weekend Regatta boat race.
But one amongst them is in a van explosion that puts Berdie right in it. The shock of the blast sends her whirling, and when the Yard arrives, fingers point to a profiled suspect that ignites village fears.
Who would think that business vans, one heroic dog, mistaken identity, an evocative book, and enduring friendships could help solve the crime?
Berdie must recapture her investigative brilliance, sift the ashes, and ascertain who's responsible.
Will the enigma of fire be laid bare? This mystery sizzles.
The wife and mother swept the floor in easy draws, the sound of the straw against the tile punctuated by the noise of her children playing.
“Get the children away from the window,” her husband commanded. The man jerked his hand from right to left and back again.
His eyes flared and she could see the veins in his neck bulge as he stretched it forward. “Get the children away from the window. Now!”
“Children, come here.” She stopped her sweeping and motioned them to her.
The little boy pulled his sister’s toe in a silly game they played, and they both broke into voluble giggles.
“Children,” he screamed, “go to your mother!”
Both children started and eyed their father.
“What’s wrong?” She watched her husband move along the wall in a stealthy manner. “What’s wrong?”
“Shh, listen.” The man swallowed as he braced his rigid fingers against the door and put his ear close. “Can’t you hear them? Listen. They’re coming near.”
The little girl left her brother drawing finger circles on the floor and stepped close to her father. “Who’s near, Daddy?”
He grabbed the little girl’s jaw with his hand and squeezed it. She grimaced and tried to pull away, but he clung on all the tighter, and then laid his face nearly on hers. “Quiet,” he spoke in a hiss.
His wife drew a quick breath. “Oh no, God, please.” Her prayer was short. The broom clattered as she dropped it to the floor and hurried to her daughter, putting her arms round her. “Yes, yes, we’ll be silent,” she assured her husband.
The man released his grip. “Stay low and stay alert. Find cover. We can’t let them know we’re here.” He spun round and went toward the bedroom.
The mother bent down and pulled her daughter to her. The child leaned into her body and whimpered.
“Quiet, my love, you must be quiet.” The mother stroked her little one’s soft hair. “You must be a brave little girl.”
She felt her hands begin to tremble as she came to her feet. Gripping her daughter’s hand, with her other arm she scooped up her son, who sat quiet with wonder on the floor. Both children in hand, she darted her eyes cross the room. What now?
Her husband reentered the space. She gasped.
He gripped a gun braced against his side. He said nothing but moved determinedly along to the window. She could see the alarm in his eyes, his face skewed with fear, as if destructive possibilities screamed out a warning.
She felt tears spring to her eyes.
“What’s Daddy doing?” her son asked in a tiny voice.
“You must be Daddy’s brave little boy,” she whispered and watched a tear trickle down her daughter’s cheek, red from her father’s clench.
The woman could feel the icy fingers of panic grip her heart. Holding her children’s hands, she ran from the room into the kitchen where she grabbed a table knife.
She spied the back corner behind the wooden table. “Come along, children,” she encouraged. She crouched low, urging her precious little ones with her as they crawled along the floor under the table to the corner.
She could hear her husband bark unrecognizable slurs to those who threatened beyond.
“Are we playing army?” her little girl asked.
“Yes, yes, we’re playing army. We must obey orders and stay quiet.”
Her daughter’s eyes were filled with bewilderment, and a single sob slipped from her tiny lips.
The woman maneuvered herself round and placed her back against the wall, her legs pressed against her chest where she hid the knife. She clutched her children, pulling them against the sides of her body. “We’re going to stay right against the wall and close to each other.” She could feel her heart pounding. “Remember Daddy loves you very much,” she murmured as they huddled together in the dark corner. She tried to hum a calming lullaby, though her voice quivered. A single tear escaped and slowly slid down her hot cheek. “He loves us very much.”
“Sometimes it feels the sweeping hands of that clock are wrapped round my toes and squeezing.”
The kitchen aroma of a well-prepared meal tickled Berdie Elliott’s nose as she placed decorated picnic ware in the ample food hamper, whilst aching feet reminded her that she hadn’t had a sit-down since early this morning.
“I tell you,” she said to her friend, Lillie Foxworth, who added folded linens to the plates, “sometimes it takes all one possesses to keep up.”
“True,” Lillie mumbled.
“When I followed my dear Hugh into the pastorate after his military retirement”—Berdie took a deep breath—“and I came with the same commitment of faith and service, mind you, I hadn’t reckoned that I’d be a hostel hostess in a small English village, racing the clock to feed the five thousand at Whitsun.”
“Oh, but remember, Berdie,” Lillie ribbed with a large grin and hazel-green eyes dancing, “to be hospitable at all times is a grace. You could be entertaining angels unawares.”
Berdie waggled a fork toward her friend. “Night wanderings, unwelcomed pets, demanding diets: if the guests staying here are angels, I should think their halos have slipped slightly.”
“Come now, Berdie.” Lillie took the fork from Berdie’s hand. “I’ve not noticed five thousand, just nine people at last count, and it’s a picnic al fresco at the lake, not the village fete.”
“You’re such a stickler about minor details.”
Lillie put the fork next to the others in the utensil basket and surveyed the situation. “There’s no room in the hamper for the main dish.”
“You see? Stickler for details.” Berdie chuckled and Lillie joined her. “Take out the jar of pickled onions to make room. It’s quite clear, Lillie, where our nattering gets us.”
The sound of the vicarage front door chime sang out its plea for attention.
“Oh bother,” flew from Berdie’s lips.
“Ah, angels have come knocking. The word’s out all cross the heavens,” Lillie shouted as Berdie left the kitchen. “There’s a room going spare at the vicarage and food to be had.”
Berdie chortled while she hustled through the front hall.
She arrived at the pub mirror, placed just alongside the door, and glanced at herself. Middle age had been kind to her, but she hoped her brown eyes didn’t appear as tired as she felt at the moment. She pushed an errant piece of her red-brown bobbed hair to its appropriate place, adjusted her tortoiseshell glasses, wiped her hand cross the ditsy designs of her apron that covered her more-pudgy-than-lean body, turned with steady mind for whatever may greet her, and flung the vicarage door open.
There before her stood Milton Butz, the inevitable dots of maturing adolescence decorating his fourteen-year-old face, and behind, his tall, ginger-haired friend, Kevin McDermott. Hardly heavenly beings.
“Milton, Kevin, hello,” Berdie greeted.
“That big dog is running all over the village again, Mrs. Elliott.” Milton released a slight pant.
“He’s been digging in Mrs. Hall’s herb garden, again.” Kevin’s round eyes held an element of panic as he took a deep breath. “And he’s scary.”
Berdie wanted to shout, “That annoying canine escape artist is more trouble than he’s worth, and seeing as he belongs to retired Leftenant Commander Cedric Royce, just one of our ‘angelic’ guests, the commander can ruddy well chase about after it.” But instead, she offered a more refined response that was in line with her position and wouldn’t shower the boys with her displeasure. “The dog’s name is Sparks, and he’s quite”—Berdie searched for a constructive word—“energetic for an animal his size and difficult to contain.”
“He doesn’t seem very friendly either,” Kevin added.
“He’s not a lap dog, no.”
Milton’s barrel chest rose and fell—the boys had obviously rushed. “Do you want us to collect him?”
“Milty.” Kevin’s eyes grew wider, and he kicked the back of Milton’s shoe.
“He’s just a dog.” Milton’s demeanor was fearless.
“Thanks for the offer, lads, but I believe Leftenant Commander Royce is at the Upland Arms enjoying a swift half. Perhaps you could fetch him and let him deal with the beast.”
“Beast?” Kevin’s cheeks flushed under the freckles.
Milton looked slightly disappointed. “Are you sure you don’t want us to try to collect Sparks?”
Kevin’s eyebrows knit into a deep frown.
Question 1: What initially arroused Berdie uneasiness that her sleuthing gift was not up to par?
Answer 1: The early stages of collateral fallout from the blast gave her a headache and a hit to her reasoning processes. Ch. 3
Question 2: What goaded Berdie, in Chapter 8, as the investigation went on, that made her question if she was losing her gift altogether?
Answer 2: When Lillie challenged Berdie, saying she wasn't using a broad perspective because she was too close to the case, and Berdie admitted to herself that it held truth.
Question 3: When did Berdie, late in the game, decide she could solve this case?
Answer 3: When she bumped into Chief Inspector Kent on the High Street where he admitted things seemed a paper chase, and Berdie possessed something he didn't have: local knowledge. Ch. 11
Question 4: At what point did Berdie genuinely acknowledge that her hesitations concerning her sleuthing gift was in the past?
Answer 4: When speaking to Mrs. Hall about the case at the Whistsun Regatta. Ch.15
Question 5: When speaking with Chad at Dave's flat, how did Berdie blend her role as a church woman with her sleuthing nose?
Answer 5: She actively listened to Chad. She asked him careful questions. She challenged him concerning forgiveness and the real freedom it can bring. Ch. 7
Question 6: How did Lillie, as a faithful friend, save Berdie from an untimely display of bile at the Copper Kettle in Chapter 6?
Answer 6: Lillie encouraged Berdie to look about and consider the appropriateness of her actions, even after making a scene upon entry.
Question 7: Think on Berdie's experience in Slough. She was ready to give up on searching for Sundeep when the Lord "pulled a rabbit from a divine hat." Has that ever happened to you?
Answer 7: open ended answers
Question 8: Did you at any time suspect the real culprit who planted the explosive? When?
Answer 8: open ended answers
Question 9: Do you now, or have you ever known anyone who serves, or has served, in the military? Tell us about them.
Answer 9 open ended answers
Question 10: Not all of us can solve a case that involves military service people like Berdie did. But, what gifts or abilities do you posses that you could use to show appreciation to those who serve/served?
Answer 10: open ended answers