Copyright 2008 by M. C. Beaton.
A SPOONFUL OF POISON (Chapter 1)
MRS. BLOXBY, WIFE OF THE VICAR of Carsely, looked nervously at her visitor. "Yes, Mrs. Raisin is a friend of mine, a very dear friend, but she is now very busy running her detective agency and does not have spare time for—"
"But this is such a good cause," interrupted Arthur Chance, vicar of Saint Odo The Severe in the village of Comfrey Magna. "The services of an expert public relations officer to bring the crowds to our annual fête would be most welcome. Proceeds will go to restore the church roof and to various charities."
"It would do no harm to just ask, now would it? It is your Christian duty."
"I hardly need to be reminded of my duty," said Mrs. Bloxby wearily, thinking of all the parish visits, the mothers' meetings and the Carsely Ladies' Society. Really, she thought, surveying the vicar, for such a mild, inoffensive-looking man he is terribly pushy. Arthur Chance was a small man with thick glasses and grey hair which stuck out in tufts like horns on either side of his creased and wrinkled face. He had married a woman twenty years his junior, Mrs. Bloxby remembered. He probably bullied her into it, she thought.
"Look! I will do what I can, but I cannot promise anything. When is the fête?"
"It is a week on Saturday."
"Only about a week away. You are not giving Mrs. Raisin any time."
"God will help her," said Mr. Chance.
Agatha Raisin, a middle-aged woman who had sold up her successful public relations business to take early retirement in a cottage in the Cotswolds, had found that inactivity did not suit her and so had started up her own private detective agency. Now that it was successful, however, she wished she had more time to relax. Also, the cases which poured into the detective agency all concerned messy divorces, missing children, missing cats and dogs, and only the occasional case of industrial espionage. She had begun to close the agency at weekends, feeling she was losing quality time, forgetting that when she had plenty of quality time, she didn't know what to do with it.
For a woman in her early fifties, she still looked well. Her hair, although tinted, was glossy and her legs good. Although she had small eyes, she had very few wrinkles. She had a generous bosom and a rather thick waist, which was her despair.
On Friday evening, when she arrived home, she fussed over her two cats, Hodge and Boswell, kicked off her shoes, mixed herself a generous gin and tonic, lit a cigarette, and lay back on the sofa with a sigh of relief.
She wondered idly where her ex-husband, James Lacey, was. He lived next door to her but worked as a travel writer and was often abroad. She rummaged around in her brain as usual, searching for that old obsession, that old longing for him, but it seemed to have gone forever. Agatha, without an obsession, was left with herself; and she forgot about all the pain and misery that obsession for her ex had brought and remembered only the brief bursts of elation.
The doorbell shrilled. Agatha swung her legs off the sofa and went to answer the door. Her face lit up when she saw Mrs. Bloxby standing there. "Come in," she cried. "I'm just having a G and T. Want one?"
"No, but I'd like a sherry."
Sometimes Agatha, often too aware of her slum upbringing, wondered what it would be like to be a lady inside and out like Mrs. Bloxby. The vicar's wife was wearing a rather baggy tweed skirt and a rose-pink blouse which had seen better days. Her grey hair was escaping from a bun at the back of her neck, but she had her usual air of kindness and dignity.
The pair of them, as was...