‘Hurry up Gertie, we’ve got heaps to do; your dilly-dallying is not going to get us through the day, is it?’
Bianca, better known as Binky was already buckling herself up in the driver’s seat of the slightly battered Volkswagen which was desperately in need of a good wash and wax.
‘I’m coming, Binky, I’m coming,’ cried out Gertrude as she hurried down the drive and jumped into the passenger seat. Bianca had already started the engine and they took off down the bumpy dirt track that led to the road. They turned left heading for Colchester.
Gertrude and Bianca were twins. Neither had married and now aged forty-five, they lived together in their parental home which had once been Watson’s Farm. The farm was decidedly too much of a burden for the two women to manage after the death of their father. They sold the land and livestock to their neighbour, farmer Green retaining only the cottage and a small allotment surrounding their residence. It was a mutually beneficial deal.
The local villagers were a bit surprised that both girls had remained single, they had been good looking in their prime and still were; and decidedly intelligent as well. Age had given them a graceful demeanour. Being identical twins, it was difficult to tell them apart barring a few give-away signs such as their voices, a slight difference in hair colour and their style of dress. Binky was by far the more organised and decisive of the two.
It was a half hour drive to Colchester so Gertie made herself comfortable in her seat. They passed the entrance to farmer Green’s property, waving to him perched on his tractor at the far end. His cows were grazing across the road, also part of his farm. The daffodils were in bloom along the roadside, their vivid yellow contrasting with the lush green cushion of the grass. All in all, it was a fabulous summer’s day with a bit of sunshine and a host of wild flowers that would lend anyone a spring to their step.
The two women made this trip every fortnight to stock up on their food supplies, generally all the things that they could not acquire locally. It made a nice break from the work week and had become more of an outing rather than a dutiful shopping chore. Lunch in Colchester was usually on the cards but not today they had a big evening ahead; they would have to busy themselves preparing a super dinner for three to entertain their visitor.
Gertie rummaged in her handbag and pulled out a rather lengthy shopping list. There were two parts to it, one consisted of the usual items that they purchased and the other was what they planned to get for the night’s supper.
‘Mm, Dover Sole, baby potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, it all sounds so good. I’m getting rather hungry looking at this list. Perhaps we should stop off for a coffee and a cake before we do the shopping, just in case I feel faint with hunger.’ Gertie was obsessive about food.
‘That sounds like a very good idea, Gertie. Shall we try that new coffee shop we spotted last week? The cakes and pastries in there looked fabulously sumptuous,’ said Binky as she veered left into the turn-off for Colchester. ‘You know, we still haven’t made up our mind about pudding. We were playing around with chocolate blancmange or sillabub. Any thoughts on that? We’ll need to get some ingredients while we’re here.’
‘I’m all for sillabub. You know it’s my favourite and I’d be happy to make it. So, shall we say that’s settled?’ remarked Gertie while making a quick note of what had to be purchased.
‘Yes, sillabub it is then,’ said Binky ‘and you, dear sister will be making it on our return.’
‘Well, that’s settled then,’ chirped Gertie, happy at getting her way.
‘On second thoughts, not everyone likes syllabub, perhaps we should go with the blancmange… just in case,’ remarked Binky.
‘How about we make both? That way, I can still enjoy my sillabub,’ piped in Gertie.
‘All the same to me, as long as you make both, Gertie,’ said Binky.
Gertie not only loved cooking, she was rather fond of eating as well and Binky was more than happy to indulge in the never-ending recipes that Gertie would try her hand at. Good food was something they both enjoyed.
They had arrived at Sainsbury’s car park; it was simply a matter of finding a good spot. Binky was always particular about that, wanting to be close to the lifts or the ramp leading to the shops. Gathering their shopping bags together, the two sisters walked down the High Street eager to try the newest coffee shop in town.
The aroma of fine teas could never compete with the overwhelming smell of fine coffee and home baking. Yet, when it came down to taste, it was tea that the two women relished the most. Gertie decided on an apple and almond flan while Binky went for a blueberry Danish pastry. They would always choose different items from the menu and then share.
‘This is absolutely divine,’ said Gertie as she cut half of her flan and slid it onto Binky’s plate. Binky reciprocated. For a good five minutes the two were engrossed in simply enjoying their cakes and tea.
‘I do hope Hugo is going to enjoy the evening with us,’ said Binky in a thoughtful kind of mood. ‘It’s been a while since we last saw him. He’s such a charmer, no wonder the ladies fall for him! I bet he’s in high demand.’
‘He certainly is charismatic, no denying that. I’m almost certain that he’ll like the fish we’ve planned on, Binky, so put your worries aside. He did say that he loved fish and we can’t get any better than the fish monger here in Colchester. They say he’s the best for miles around.’
‘Yes, you’re right, I shouldn’t keep worrying. Anyway, changing the subject, you really did well with those outfits you ordered for us Gertie. I simply adore them and I’m sure that Hugo will too. How on earth did you find that outlet’? queried Binky.
‘Oh, it only took a little searching and comparing on the web. I’m only glad that the sizes fit us so perfectly. We make such a picture together in them; perhaps we should ask Hugo to take one of us together, or better still, one with all three of us… him in the middle of course. I’m sure he’d manage to organise that easily enough.’
‘Oh yes, that really would be something to reminisce about in years to come,’ retorted Binky with a romantic sigh.
‘Shall we then?’ remarked Gertie, noting that Binky had taken her final sip of tea. The coffee shop was a buzz with people waiting for seats when they left.
They had a busy day of shopping and cooking ahead. A quick walk through the aisles of Sainsbury and they had their trolley load of the usual things that they purchased except for a few specialities for the evening. It was quickly unloaded into the boot of the car before trekking off to the fishmongers.
Trade was busy, it gave the two women time to look at the huge variety on display.
‘Binky, look at those oysters! They look fabulous. I know we aren’t keen on them but I recall Hugo mentioning how much he loves them. Shall we get a few… just for him?’
‘Yes, why not? Let’s get some… After all it’s a special night for all of us so let’s make the most of it.’
They purchased a kilo of Dover sole and half a dozen oysters and decided on half a kilo of prawns as well before leaving the fish mongers. This was going to be a veritable feast and both sisters hoped dearly that Hugo was going to enjoy it as much as they would. They made a quick detour to the bottle shop for some champagne, wine and port for afters and it was back in the car heading homewards to a very busy afternoon.
By the time the cooking was finished, Binky and Gertie felt exhausted and famished. A quick fruit salad of berries from the garden and a strong cup of tea provided the much-needed pick-me-up. It was such a lovely afternoon, even Fuzzy the cat was having a snooze on one of the garden chairs while butterflies of every hue hovered around, moving gently from flower to flower. The two women could not have dreamed of moving away from this idyllic country hideaway, so far removed from a busy suburban sprawl of houses where neighbours could just look over the fence to see everything that happened next door. That was certainly not for them. They counted their lucky stars they were able to hold on to what they treasured most in life, their privacy and a quiet life.
The clock was ticking. Binky went inside the kitchen and reappeared with two glasses of champagne.
‘Here’s to tonight,’ she said. ‘We want this to be the best evening ever and that’s just what it’s going to be,’ she said handing a glass to Gertie.
What better way to start the evening off! The champagne was drunk rather hastily; they needed time to get into their fancy outfits that came with matching tie-around dress coats. Gertie’s was blue and Binky’s was green. Both looked bewitching with their black silk tights. The women often dressed in look-alike outfits as they had done in their childhood days. It was now simply a case of waiting. All spruced up, the two women relaxed until they heard the screech of tyres at the front door. It was just a few minutes before six; as always, Hugo was so punctual.
Binky had decided that she would be the one to open the door and show him in while Gertie would wait in the sitting room beside the little trolley that held the drinks and champagne for the evening.
‘Hugo, how lovely to see you after all these months,’ remarked Binky. ‘We have missed you so much. Do come in and make yourself comfortable. Gertie is simply dying to see you.’
Hugo gave Binky a kiss on each cheek.
‘My word, you are looking rather well. I must say I have missed you as much as I hope you have missed me?’ Hugo was ushered into the sitting room where he received a most joyous welcome from Gertie.
‘Hugo, I have missed you so much. How long has it been now since we last saw you? Almost four months, I believe,’ said Gertie. ‘Yes, that’s right, four months or a little bit over. Do tell us about all your adventures. You said that you were off to the south of France on that wine tasting tour. How was it?’
‘Superb, Gertie, just superb,’ replied Hugo after having given Gertie a couple of pecks as well. ‘One must say that the French do know their wines. Let’s see now, you seem to have got some rather nice champagne here, pink as well. I love the pinks, they give such a warm feel to the drink,’ replied Hugo, examining the bottle carefully.
Gertie passed the drinks around and they made a toast to celebrate.
‘Ladies, that cooking is smelling divine, I hope it won’t be long before we start tucking into it? I’m developing a rather roaring appetite with that fantastic aroma wafting out of the kitchen.’
‘We have some oysters just for you Hugo,’ said Gertie as they were sat around the dining table a few minutes later. ‘I think we’ll let you tuck into those first before the main course.’
She placed the platter of oysters and a little container of lemon butter sauce in front of a most ecstatic Hugo. The two women sat facing him, entranced by the gusto with which he ate them. They were happy relishing their champagne, looking forward to the main course and desert. In due course, an exquisite home-cooked meal was wiped clean off the plates.
‘That ladies, is absolutely one of the best feasts that I have had in a long time. Who needs to go to France for good food when it is right here on my doorstep?’ Hugo knew how to flatter the two women to bits.
‘I might just nip upstairs to the toilet while the two of you enjoy the clearing up,’ he stated. ‘I know I’ll only get in the way of it all anyway.’ Hugo knew his way around the house.
‘We’ll see you upstairs in a little while,’ piped Binky with a little wink aimed at Gertie.
The women were fastidious about cleaning up thoroughly but they were also quick with it. With a nifty wipe of the hands on the tea towel, the aprons came off and they hurried upstairs to get ready for Hugo. He was going to be in for such a surprise! Both women were giggling as they took their dress coats off to expose their next layer of clothing; one in green, the other in blue, it was erotic underwear. And what had appeared to be black silk tights were in fact black silk stockings held up with black lace garters. They were delighted with how they looked and twirled around in front of the mirror complimenting each other and masquerading in naughty and inviting poses.
‘Binky, Hugo is really going to love this,’ whispered Gertie. The bathroom was only two doors away and they did not want him to hear them.
‘I’ll be damned if he doesn’t. I mean, just look at us! We couldn’t look any sexier, could we?’ commented Binky.
It was one more round in front of the mirror, and the two women fell into the luxuriously made bed. Binky had made this her labour of love, a deep blue satin cover with lots of multi-coloured satin cushions. It felt like heaven lying on it. The two sisters held hands as they both went into their own worlds of imagination. How would Hugo react to seeing them? Would he go absolutely wild and jump into their midst? Would he say anything and if so what? The questions passed through each of their minds.
‘Gertie,’ said Binky in a soft voice. ‘Isn’t Hugo taking rather a long time in the bathroom?’
‘Hm, I suppose so. How long has he been, then?’
‘Almost half an hour. I think we’d better go and see what’s going on,’ said Binky as she shot up from her reverie. Something didn’t seem quite right.
Both girls scrambled out of the bed leaving it looking rather dishevelled. They ran down the hall and started knocking on the bathroom door.
‘Hugo, are you all right? We’re just a little worried about you.’ There was no answer.
There was alarm on the women’s faces as they looked at each other. They tried again; no response. The panic set in.
‘Shall I open the door’? asked Gertie of her sister. Binky gave her the all clear with a nod. ‘Hugo, we’re just a bit concerned about you not answering. We’re going to open the door and come in,’ she said as she turned the handle.
Both women gasped and put their hands to their mouths in horror as they saw poor, dear Hugo lying face down on the bathroom floor. The awful odour of fishy puke hit them hard in the face. Their immediate reaction was to try not to breathe anymore. Hugo had been sick all over the floor and there was still a small trickle saliva dripping out of his mouth. His eyes were closed and his face looked as white as chalk.
‘Hugo, speak to us,’ said Binky as she tried to shake a response out of him. There was no response, no movement. ‘Hugo, are you all right? We’ll get you to a doctor, don’t worry.
Gertie, help me to turn Hugo round, will you.’
They managed to get him lying on his back. It was not a pretty sight. The bathroom floor was covered in volumes of puke and he looked far from alive.
Gertie broke into uncontrollable tears.
‘Oh Binky! Look at Hugo, I don’t believe he’s alive, do you? I think Hugo’s died on us, leaving us in all this silly stupid underwear. And he never got to even see us in it!’
She tried desperately to feel for a pulse on Hugo’s wrist. Binky had gone ashen white while she watched her sister try one wrist and then the next. No luck.
‘It must have been that fish. No. We all ate the fish, so we should be sick too. Oh, Binky, it must have been the oysters. He’s the only one who ate the oysters. Let’s call Doctor Perkins,’ said Gertie as she tried to leave the room to get to the phone.
‘No, Gertie. We can’t call doctor Perkins. Don’t you see the predicament we are in? We, two longstanding and respectable young women from the village having an escort for a threesome! No. We most definitely can’t call doctor Perkins. Our reputation will be in tatters and we’d never be able to live it down for the rest of our lives. We’ll have to think of some other way, something a little more creative.’
Binky rose slowly, went to the basin and ran the tap; both girls washed their hands and scrubbed up a bit. Gertie was still sobbing.
‘Now Gertie, calm down. Try to not be emotional. We have a dead body on our hands. An escort for that matter. We must in no way be associated with him. So… how are we to get out of this mess? Put your thinking cap on and we’ll have to try and get him out of here but to where…?’
‘How can we get out of such a mess? We are responsible for his death. We fed him oysters that were off,’ wailed Gertie.
‘Hush, now Gertie. You’ve made a slight mistake there. We bought the oysters from the fishmonger. It’s him who’s to blame for poor Hugo dying, not us, Gertie’. Binky was always very level-headed. She grabbed a towel and wiped Gertie’s tears away and let her have a good blow to clear her nose.
The two women made their way into the bedroom and sat down on the bed holding hands.
‘It’s time to think now Gertie. We must not be associated in any way with Hugo, so we need to get him away from the cottage. But where to is the big question? We could leave him somewhere along the roadside… I suppose…? Oh, don’t forget we need to get rid of his car as well so we’ll have to drive his car, and ours as well so that we can get back home…’
A plan was hatched. The two women quickly climbed into their gardening clothes, pulling them over their fancy underwear and then the hard work started. Binky grabbed Hugo by his feet and Gertie had him under his arms. It was a slow climb down the stairs, then into the garden. Getting Hugo into his car was a challenge but they finally had him propped up in the passenger seat. Binky decided it best that she drive his car while Gertie would follow her in theirs. Thankfully there were no street lights. The wind had picked up and the lightest of rain could be felt on their cheeks.
‘Who was that?’ shrieked Gertie just as she was to get into the driver’s seat. She jumped back only to tread on poor Fuzzy’s tail.
‘You’re getting jittery for nothing Gertie. Stay calm and do as I say. There’s no one out at this time of night. Are you ready then? Just follow me.’
They drove slowly. No headlights, not until they reached the main road anyway. Once again, they were heading on the road towards Colchester but this time, they would be taking a detour into Church Lane. That was the next left. It was very much an old country road dotted with potholes. The drive was arduous, Binky had to either pull Hugo towards her or push him away from her depending on the bumps.
The little church was soon visible and Binky sighed with relief. They had decided that they would park Hugo’s car with him inside, beside the church. That way, hopefully he would be found first thing in the morning and all going to plan, he’d be taken care of sooner rather than later. There was a sharp jerk as Binky jammed on the brakes. She was not used to driving such a posh car; it had rattled her a bit and she almost fell out of the driver’s seat. Gertie drove up alongside and Binky jumped into the passenger seat, relieved to be away from a very dead Hugo.
‘Carry straight on Gertie. We can turn down Potter’s Lane and get home that way. I want to be away from this place as fast as I can,’ wailed Binky, finally feeling the full force of the night’s events.
Gertie reached out and patted her on the hand. The two sisters always stood by each other, whatever the situation. They both knew it would be a long night of scrubbing and cleaning.
‘I hope no one saw us… or heard the car…’ remarked Gertie.
‘No, I believe we have indeed been very lucky.’
It was a sleepless night even after the cleaning was over. Binky, as always took charge of the situation, reminding Gertie to act as normal as possible the next day. They both had the day off work and just as well; it would give them time to compose themselves. Yet, neither could get much done, try as they did. It was seemingly endless cups of tea. They listened to the local news; the vicar had discovered the parked car with Hugo but nothing further was divulged.
The late evening news gave more information about the body being found and the possible cause of death being food poisoning. The sisters heaved a sigh of relief. It appeared as though the whole thing would blow over. On Friday, both girls would be at work and people were bound to talk about the strange events. They would have to do their best to pretend interest but no knowledge as to what might have happened. Gossip was always flapping around; no one tired of it. They got through that day and finally felt able to relax with a glass of champagne on Friday evening. It was a late night after their favourite quiz show and life was back to normal.
Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. Gertie was hanging the washing out in the back garden when she heard the knock on the front door. Binky answered. Two cops stood outside.
‘Colchester constabulary Ma’am, this is sergeant Black, I’m sergeant Robertson. May we come in to ask you a few questions regarding a recent death in your area?’
‘Yes… yes of course,’ said Binky opening the door wider. She felt the blood drain from her head, and had to use immense willpower to maintain her composure.
‘Do come in…, take a seat. I’ll just go and get my sister… she’s hanging the washing… I.., I suppose you’d want to speak to both of us…?’ muttered Binky as she dashed out; it afforded her the time she needed to gather her thoughts together and she’d have to calm Gertie before they faced the cops.
Anyway, what did it have to do with them? Nothing. The cops were just questioning everyone in the neighbourhood. Standard procedure, pure and simple!
‘Gertie, it’s best you let me do the talking. Just sit there and be polite and smile at them. I’m sure it’s just the usual door-to-door.’
‘So, it’s Ms Gertrude and Ms Bianca Watson. Sisters, I gather?’
‘Yes, that’s right,’ Said Binky. ‘We’ve lived here all our lives.’
‘Well, I’m sure you’ve heard about the body that was found in a car by St Augustine’s church… we’re just wondering if either of you saw or heard anything on Wednesday evening, say, between the hours of nine and midnight?’
‘No… no, I don’t believe so. It certainly has shocked the neighbourhood though. I wonder what he was doing by the church anyway? Seems rather odd,’ remarked Binky with a questioning look.
‘Yes, it’s not often one drives oneself to church to die. You weren’t by any chance expecting a visitor that evening?’
‘No, not at all. We live a very quiet life here and I believe Gertie and I retired rather early that night. Wednesdays is usually an early night for us.’
‘You don’t perhaps know anyone by the name of Hugo Bertram?’
‘No… no I don’t, that is… we don’t,’ remarked Binky.
The cop redirected the question to Gertie who reaffirmed in the negative.
‘Should you remember anything that you might have seen or heard over the past few days, anything that seemed out of the ordinary, please get in touch with us. We feel that there is a particular connection with this parish so we’ll more than likely be back for another chat.’ They took their leave, looked curiously around the side of the property and drove off.
The sisters went inside and sat down on the sofa.
‘It’s just routine, it must be, but I feel that those coppers have something on us,’ remarked Binky. ‘Put the kettle on Gertie, I need an extra strong cuppa. I feel absolutely drained.’
The cops did not look back until they had got into their vehicle.
‘There’s something odd about those two women, Black. I almost feel that they are somehow connected with this affair. It’s good we didn’t mention that the body was strangely in the passenger seat.’ The two officers got in their car, cast a suspicious eye back at the house and then moved on.
‘Right, Gertie, I’m off to Colchester. Shan’t be too long. In the meantime, you know what needs doing. Let’s make this swift,’ remarked Binky.
She gave the officers enough time to disappear into the distance before heading into town. Binky explained to Camille, their travel agent, what they were after.
‘Yes, two tickets please. That’s right, Kingston, Jamaica.’
‘I can get you both on a flight tomorrow morning if that suits you? So, you have an aunty living there? How exciting. Well…I mean, not that she is so seriously sick, but to have a reason to go over to such a paradise… I do hope you get to have some fun while over there… no shortage of sunshine anyway, but I would advise you to get yourselves a couple of good brollies. It’s an awful lot of rain with that tropical heat.’
‘Thank you so much Camille and we do so appreciate you taking care of Fuzzy for us. We’ll hope to see you when we get back, don’t know when, but Aunt Meg would really have to be well before we leave her. Besides, we do intend on having a bit of fun as well.’
Camille was rather taken aback by the unusual destination requested. The sisters had never before mentioned an aunt in Jamaica!
Binky got back to the house in high spirits.
‘We leave tomorrow, Gertie, in the morning. Isn’t it wonderful! It’s just what the two of us need. A clean break to forget all this dreadful business.’
‘Tell me all, Binky. I can’t wait to get away from here right now. Tomorrow morning sounds perfect… and I’ve got the bags packed with everything.’
‘Let’s not forget a couple of brollies, Camille did say that it’s awfully wet out there… it’s that tropical weather and the monsoons, you see…’
Next morning, the taxi picked the girls up at eight thirty and two very relieved and excited women chatted excitedly about their imaginary aunt and a long deserved, open-ended holiday as their cab raced them on to Heathrow.
‘Eh, come and take a look at this, Black,’ said Robertson. ‘This report says that Hugo Bertram worked as an escort for that agency in town, the one called Utopia. Furthermore, on the night in question… Wednesday, they were booked in for an appointment, and guess where? At none other than Watson’s Farm, with those two bloody women… Who would have guessed? Two respectable women in a sleepy little village, booked in for a threesome and all! …And the agency says that Bertram never made contact after that engagement.’ Black burst out laughing and was still ripping his sides as Robertson dragged him towards their car.
‘Those two women had everything to do with Bertram’s death. I mean, if it was food poisoning, why didn’t they call the doctor? They didn’t, because they murdered him, perhaps to rob him, who knows? But we’ll jolly well nail them…’
The police car sped on towards the village, only barely avoiding a collision with a taxi going in the other direction and distinctly over the speed limit as well.
‘What’s a taxi doing around here?’ remarked Black. ‘One doesn’t see taxis in this backwater? What’s the world coming to these days?’
‘Indeed! Good question, …you know Black, that’s about the most sensible thing you’ve said in the past week.’ Robertson and Black had just pulled up at the now empty Watson’s residence.
Binky and Gertie were just about to take off on their plane.
‘Binky, do you think that we are in any way liable for Hugo’s… Hugo’s demise?’
‘Well, technically speaking, they could prove that to be the case if they find out our connection with him, …and they surely will, once they identify him.’
‘What a good idea this holiday is!’ Gertie sighed contentedly as the plane took off.
Christine Hand is a Brisbane-based academic and has worked in many parts of the world. She writes short stories and is currently working on a novel. Christine was frequently published in the “Korea Times”. She was also a regular writer for an online platform “Suite 101”. Submissions were of an academic nature and covered topics of a diverse range, mainly socio-political, financial, and historical. Christine also covered current affairs, book reviews and biographies.