Friday, 1 April 2016

An Anthology of Christmas Murders - Terror, Tinsel and Turkey edited by Jeremy Moiser

Terror, tinsel and turkey - Contribution by Harry Riley

Alan Weywent was an overweight flamboyant fraudster, whose cut-price double-glazing company of A-Wey-Went-Windows went bust. He had had full order books when the firm closed down, but his suppliers had pulled the plug because of too many unpaid bills. He was faced with litigation from customers who’d forked out in advance for replacement windows and conservatories that would never get built. Also there were building-contractors owed tens of thousands of pounds for unpaid work and materials. This crooked businessman moved from town to town around the Midlands, setting up bogus companies, preying on elderly vulnerable customers and then vanishing with their hard-earned savings. His double-glazing scam had proved incredibly profitable, and he was sorry to see it go, but a very healthy portfolio of virtually untraceable offshore-accounts had softened the blow. Now he would have to lie low until the heat cooled. 

Moving to the small town of Tillon on Trent in Staffordshire, he had rented a large house in a decent area and attempted to bury his past, adopting a new persona, with a splendid new name: Eugene O’Brady-Smith: a wealthy book-loving bachelor, studying creative writing. He looked for a local group of writers and quickly struck gold. Because he was smooth-tongued and used to getting his own way, it was not long before he was appointed chairman of the Tillon and District Writing Group. It was at one of their weekly group meetings that he made his announcement:
‘Now please understand, I am not doing this to upset anybody, but it grieves me to say, I shan’t be with you all for this year’s Christmas Fuddle.’ He waited for the loud guffaws and noisy chatter to die down, before pompously continuing: ‘I suppose my news should really have been included in the Any Successes part of today’s agenda, but no matter, as I’ve unexpectedly been thrust into the limelight: I’ve received a special invitation to go for an expenses-paid holiday trip to Cumbria, during the Christmas holidays.’ He couldn’t hide a self-satisfied smirk, as he condescendingly explained: ‘I will be staying at the Byron House Spa Hotel. It’s a five-star establishment, and I suppose that, as my new book has been such a success, I should expect no less. I’m sorry I will miss out on the fun and high jinks at the Old Dog and Partridge this year, but I see it as an inducement for some of you slowcoaches to step up to the mark and reach for higher things, as I have done. Onwards and upwards, eh?’ And with that announcement the speaker reached into his huge leather briefcase and, conjurer-like, produced a glossy white brochure, embossed with the impressive green logo of the Byron House Spa Hotel at the top, and slapped it down dramatically on the hard surface of the wooden desk. Almost immediately afterwards came another loud slap, and then another and another from around the room, as three more members triumphantly thumped their matching white and green brochures down in front of them. Amazed gasps echoed around the normally placid roomful of local writers, poets, aspiring authors and those who repeatedly attended these meetings just to enjoy the company of others. Then the oldest group member spoke up, his watery eyes glittering with excitement and his voice extra loud, as his hearing-aid had slipped out:
‘Ah, by crikey, a Tinsel and Turkey do! Can I come too!’ Receiving a withering smile of annoyance from the chairman, he settled back in his seat, resuming his normal semi-comatose expression, half-rimmed spectacles falling down from his nose, to hang suspended by their chain down his dusty jacket. The officiating officer’s gavel put an end to cross-table conversation, as he called for order and insisted there must have been a mistake. He suggested the other three recipients do and say nothing more, and he would telephone the hotel on their behalf, to clarify the situation right after the meeting. Eugene believed it all to be a silly mistake, made by an untrained junior at the hotel group headquarters, who’d somehow got hold of the list of his writing group’s members and had over-zealously added three more extra names had slipped through the net he had no idea. However, the other three members who were apparently to share Eugene’s holiday experience with him were themselves published writers, and they found the situation extremely amusing, as did most of the other twelve associates present.
One man, however, had been almost wetting himself with satisfaction at the new chairman’s bubble being so publicly burst. He was Kevin Hargreaves, a retired teacher, and it was he who had befriended Eugene when he’d first joined the group. And it had been Kevin who’d read through Eugene’s weak manuscripts and had pointed out where his plots were failing, how he was continually getting his characters’ point of view mixed up and where he was telling the reader, when he ought to have been showing, as was the modern style. Kevin himself had penned a very cleverly plotted novel but had expressed no interest in getting it published, insisting to Eugene that his own writing had been purely a labour of love and written simply for his own amusement. The two pals had fallen out when Kevin, having lent Eugene his handwritten manuscript to read, had asked for it back, only to be told: ‘Sorry, old lad, but I seem to have lost it. Looked everywhere;’ adding: ‘Of course you’ll have kept another copy?’ - knowing full well that Kevin would surely not have done so, his laboriously handwritten manuscript being penned on the back of some large foolscap music sheets that had been in his family for a generation or more. Then, a little while later, with a change of title and a thinly disguised plotline, Eugene’s ‘new’ book had been published. He had received a splendid advance cheque from the publisher and had boasted to anyone who would listen that he was now a very serious novelist. Eugene had been liberally dishing out signed copies of his novel at group meetings, but Kevin had chosen instead to purchase the book from a local bookstore.  Reading less than a chapter into the story, he realised with a shock that Eugene had plagiarised his own tale. By simply changing the setting, adding and adapting a few extra character names, Eugene had cleverly stolen all his former friend’s work! Kevin had no way to prove Eugene’s duplicity but had been seething with anger ever since, kicking himself for keeping his own story secret from the over-zealous critics in the Tillon Writing Group and vowing to have his revenge in full measure. Eugene would suffer for his deceitful cheating scheme.
Kevin’s opportunity had come sooner than he had expected, when, at a chance meeting at the petrol station, an acquaintance from another community group casually mentioned that a friend of his had been booked to give a talk at their Christmas do but had suddenly pulled out on the excuse that he had been gifted a free holiday at the swish Byron House Spa Hotel in the Lake District. This had been none other than Eugene O’Brady-Smith. It had been a simple matter for Kevin’s young nephew, a computer graphics wizard, to create three mock-up front covers of the BHSH and for these to be passed to three Tillon Group writers who were delighted to be in on the joke. It would be a harmless prank to play on their self-promoting chairman and a way of deflating his ego. A phone call to the hotel had confirmed O’Brady-Smith’s suspicions that he had been the victim of a hoax and that it was he alone who was to receive this special Christmas treat. So, with his sensitive ego once more restored to its former glory, Eugene packed his bags and caught the early morning train to Cumbria. It was a long tiring journey, but he eventually caught his taxi to the final destination, presenting himself at reception.