Agatha's First Case
Written by M.C. Besaton and narrated by Alison Larkin

 

Later that day, Macdonald and Baxter were summoned to the office of Chief Superintendent Baxter.

“Bertha Jones has finally admitted to murdering Lady Teller,” said Macdonald. “We are waiting until Agatha Raisin is fully recovered and we will charge her with impeding a police investigation and perverting the course of justice.”

“You idiots! She’s the heroine of the day. The press office will issue a statement expressing their gratitude. Have you realised if Sir Bryce Teller had not had such a high standing and a good lawyer, you would have charged him? On what? We’ll slant the press statement to take most of the credit, which you pair don’t deserve. This Bertha was supposed to be in Dorset. Didn’t you check her alibi?”

“Yes,” said Macdonald. “But her sister swore she was there all the time. Bertha’s cracked. She said Lady Teller was very drunk the evening before and she had kept a couple of Bertha’s blackmailing notes and was going to show them to her husband who had been complaining about her extravagance. Lady Teller said she would be fired. Bertha claimed that she had kept all the money and jewellery and would give it all back when she returned from Dorset so Lady Teller agreed to wait. So Bertha bought another cheese wire, planning to pin the murder on the husband. She phoned her sister and got her to agree to say she was with her the whole time. She waited across the road until she saw Lady Teller returning, let herself in, and killed her. So we’ve wrapped up the case.”

“You mean, Agatha Raisin’s wrapped it up. Get out of here!”

“I hate that Raisin girl,” muttered Macdonald in the corridor outside, not knowing then that he was only echoing what in later years a lot of detectives and police officers would feel as they wondered how Agatha Raisin could solve cases by apparently blundering about like some demented wasp.

*

Agatha was told later that day by a neurosurgeon that she had, luckily, a very hard head and she was to be allowed visitors. Agatha had been interviewed all that morning by the police but the surgeon did not classify them as visitors, only as some sort of necessary evil. The first was Freda, bearing a bunch of grapes.

“So exciting,” she said. “George South said you were obviously not ready to hire staff so he’s hired a couple of PR assistants for you. Some firms are already showing interest.”

Agatha suddenly felt young and weak and lost. How could she cope with running a Mayfair PR company?

She was on the verge of tears when Jill Butterfrick sailed into the room behind a large bouquet of roses. “Darling, Agatha,” she cooed. “Quite the heroine! I have great news for you. You are to come back to us as our top PR.”

Agatha could feel somewhere inside her a healthy glow of rage. She remembered all the bullying. Loudly and clearly, Agatha said, “As we used to say back at the buildings, take a hike.”

“What did you say?” Jill looked around the room as if hoping someone else had said that.

“Sod off, you dreary cow!” roared Agatha.

Jill flushed scarlet. “Why, you cheeky bitch. I’ll ruin you.”

She grabbed her roses and stormed off.

When she had gone, Agatha grinned and said, “I enjoyed that. I’m a bit tired, Freda. I have had such a long morning giving statements to the police.”

“I’ll get back to the office,” said Freda.

“Wait a bit. I thought Bryce would call.”

Freda hesitated and then said, “It’s bad news. I was going to tell you when you were better.”

“Out with it.”

“He’s got pancreatic cancer and he isn’t expected to live long.”

Agatha’s first selfish thought was that she could see the end of her dream. But that was followed by a surge of grief for the first person in her life who had been kind to her. Then she rallied. She would get out of this hospital and start work and try to make a profit while the money lasted. Somehow, she had to make it work. She owed it to Bryce.

“Where is he?” she asked.

“Harley Medical. It’s a private hospital in Harley Street.”

“Stay with me, Freda, and help me check out and we’ll get over there.”

“Oh, I brought your makeup,” said Freda. “The press are waiting outside.”

*

Although being carefully made up, Agatha looked frail and strained as she gave a statement to the press. Despite her new pugnacious manner, she was also learning diplomacy and said she wished to thank Chief Detective Inspector Macdonald and Detective Sergeant Fred Baxter for saving her life.

She and Freda hailed a cab and went to Harley Street. Agatha forgot about her ambitions as she looked dismally at the now shrunken figure of Bryce in the hospital bed. He conjured up a smile. “You’re a wonder, Agatha. The best PR in the world.”

“I swear I’ll work hard and try to pay back every penny,” said Agatha, swallowing hard to try to get rid of the lump in her throat.

“That won’t be necessary. The lot goes to my nephew, apart from a sum I have left you to cover your expenses for the next five years, and the flat and the office are yours. George will arrange the whole thing.”

Agatha blurted out her thanks, but he waved a hand to dismiss them. “The thanks are all mine. Off you go. I’d like to sleep now.”

Agatha finally reached her office and met her two new PRs, a woman called Jessie Rich and a young man named Sean Fitzgerald. George South was also waiting for her. Offers from clients were pouring in, he said. He would hire two more staff for her and after everything was set up, he would recommend a good accountant and a business manager.

“What about you working for me?” asked Agatha.

“Too expensive and plenty of clients on my books. I didn’t only work for Bryce.”

“I wish he could be cured,” said Agatha. “Can nothing be done?”

“I’m afraid not.”

*

Bryce died during the night. Agatha cried and cried when she got the news. At last Freda said bracingly, “The best thing you can do for his memory is to make a success of the business and you’ll never do that if you fall apart.”

So after the funeral, Agatha worked around the clock, representing a perfume manufacturer, a pop group, and various fashion houses. The sensitive girl she had once been became buried under a hard shell. Journalists, particularly those from the glossy magazines, had never come across a PR like Agatha before. She seemed to ferret out their weak spots and then play on them ruthlessly to get publicity for her clients.

Then one evening Freda said, “I think I should find a flat of my own.”

“Why?” demanded Agatha.

Well, dear, you’re young and it’s time you had a boyfriend. You’ll need a bit of space. Can’t bring anyone back for a romantic evening with old me sitting here.”

“Forget it. I’m through with men.”

But that night, before she went to sleep, Agatha dreamed of a tall, handsome man who would take over her heart and her life. Then her thoughts turned to Jimmy Raisin. Where was he now? She should do something about finding him so that she could get a divorce. She had been terrified that all the publicity about her would cause Jimmy to surface again.

Agatha would not admit to herself that she had become frightened of Jimmy’s drunken rages. It had been a whirlwind romance until reality had set in when Jimmy stopped his work as a plumber and took to drinking all day, expecting her to be the breadwinner. The first time he had used his fists on her, she had cried. The second time, she had hit him with a frying pan, packed up her belongings, flung the pile of Alcoholics Anonymous literature she had hopefully collected at him, and walked out of his life. Then she began to relax. If Jimmy had not put in an appearance, it stood to reason he was dead.

Perhaps Freda was right. She should find somewhere for Freda to live. Agatha was already beginning to make a lot of money over and above the large sum left to her by Bryce in his will.

*

In the morning, a new office boy with a white spotty face and his hair in a Mohawk dumped the mail on her desk. “There you are!” he said. He had a cockney voice and looked like a child.

“How old are you?” demanded Agatha. I don’t hire child labour.”

“I’m fifteen.”

What’s your name?”

“Roy Silver.”

“Well, Roy, you are now working in Mayfair, so look the part. See Freda and get some money. Take yourself to a hairdresser and get rid of that Mohawk.”

“But I’m just the office boy.”

Agatha’s eyes bored into him.

“Okay, boss. I’ll do it now.”

*

One Sunday, Agatha was strolling along the King’s Road. For once, she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and low-heeled sandals. She looked uneasily up at the darkening sky and wished she had brought an umbrella. Freda had said something about the good weather being about to break. Near The World’s End, she stopped short in front of a shop with paintings displayed in the window. The one that caught her eye was of a thatched Cotswold cottage with tall hollyhocks at the gate. The sign on the door read CLOSED, but she could see someone moving about inside. Agatha rapped on the door.

The man approached and shook his head. Agatha pointed to the painting in the window and held up her hands in a praying gesture. He hesitated and then opened the door.

“I really want to buy that painting of the thatched cottage,” said Agatha. “How much is it?”

“One hundred and fifty pounds. It is not by any known artist, so it is not expensive.”

“I’ll buy it!”

“Don’t you want to examine it?”

“No, I’ll take it now.”

“Back in a minute.” He went into a back room.

He swathed it in BubbleWrap and then carefully packaged it up in brown paper and string. There was a knock at the door. “My lunch date,” he said, letting his friend in. “I’m in the back room, Larry.”

In the back room, Geoffrey whispered, “I’ve sold that ghastly chocolate-box painting of a cottage. You know the one you said would never sell?”

“Is she American?”

“No. Funny, though. I’ve got this feeling I’ve seen her somewhere before.”

They both came out and handed Agatha her parcel. She fished out her old credit card, hoping she had enough left in that account, for she could not feel justified in using the business money.

They all exited the shop together just as the rain poured down. The friend, Larry, unfurled a large golf umbrella and they both walked off without a backward glance.

Agatha stood in the doorway. “Pigs,” she muttered. “They might at least have tried to find a cab for me.”

*

In a restaurant across the road, Larry slapped his forehead. “I know who she is. That girl. That’s Agatha Raisin, Scary Agatha, the toughest PR in town. How much did you charge her?”

“A hundred and fifty pounds.”

“It doesn’t do to get on the wrong side of that one. Send her a fifty pound or something refund.”

*

A blinding flash of lightning followed by a crack of thunder sent heavier rain cascading down as Agatha crouched in the doorway. She clutched her precious picture. One day, she would have a cottage just like the one in the painting. One day.

And holding the dream, she waited for the rain to stop.

HTML style by Stephen Thomas, University of Adelaide
Modified by Skip for ESL Bits English Language Learning