The house stood high above Porth Temple beach with its secluded golden sands, surrounded on three sides by cliffs made up of a steep grassy incline that was climbable with care. The warm blue waters lapped against the sand, washing up small shells and pebbles, wet and shining with seawater in the bright sunlight. The end of July was the very best time of the year thought Anna as she lay on the beach looking up at the cloudless sky, deep turquoise in the afternoon light. Her hands caressed the warm sand, gently and naturally sloughing off a whole year of school work and making her hands feel cleaner and smoother than they had felt since last September.
“Aren’t you glad we came?” murmured Barry lying beside her. Anna had taken some persuading to come to Cornwall with Barry’s golf club friends, who had cooked up this idea one night in the Members Bar. To them it had seemed like a fabulous idea, renting a large house where they could all unwind, the men could disappear to the local courses and their partners could enjoy the beach and the local amenities. Anna was all for a relaxing break but having spent a year leading the business functions of a large Academy Trust, she wasn’t feeling the most sociable or over keen on a bunch of golf chums dictating her precious holiday!
“It’ll do” she replied with a smile.
The first day of the holiday had been one of unpacking, exploring the house, meeting her holiday-mates and then scrambling down to the beach for an afternoon swim and sunbathe. Anna reflected that she had the kind of skin that didn’t burn easily, but Barry needed lots of protection (and sun cream, she smiled) so she set herself as an example and lathered on the sun cream before settling down on the sand, and to the promise of a wonderful week ahead that was forecast to be unusually warm and sunny, even for Cornwall.
“What do you think of the gang?” Barry asked. He had a tendency to talk and liked to fill any silence, unless of course, the golf, or the rugby, or the cycling, or the snooker, or the darts, or any sport for that matter, was on!
“They seem nice, I haven’t really had chance to get to know them yet. Give me some background.” Anna knew full well that Barry didn’t know them very well either. He wasn’t a committed golfer, just liked the occasional round when the sun was shining, and, in Anna’s view, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time when they all decided to embark on this adventure together.
Barry started absent-mindedly looking through the picnic rucksack searching for anything that might involve cheese. “OK, well Robert is an estate agent, he’s got that popular independent agency in town, you know the one that puts banners on all the traffic light railings. He is married to Rebecca, who also works in the agency. I hear she is a good photographer and takes all the house shots as well as selling more arty images at the craft market.”
“No children?” Anna asked.
“No, don’t think so” Barry almost triumphantly exclaimed as he discovered the cheese rolls at the bottom of the bag. Taking a huge bite he continued. “Then there’s Elden and Janice, I don’t think either of them work. Elden was something in the city and retired early. He told me that they like to spend a week away while the grandparents have their three children. Colin and Anthony both work at the Fitness Club. I think Colin owns it.” Anna gave a wry smile, knowing that Barry hadn’t been near a fitness club since his rugby playing days ended abruptly when his tibia was pushed through his knee cap by a deep depression in the surface of the pitch.
Barry continued to munch on the cheese roll. “Neville and Indra are both dentists.” Barry was pleased to have been able to describe the whole group and looked for approval from his wife. “Anything else you want to know?”
“No I’m sure we’ll get to know them this week”, Anna murmured, beginning to doze, “as long as we don’t have to spend every waking moment with them.”
“I’d like to spend every waking moment with this cheese.” sighed Barry as he polished off the roll and brushed the crumbs onto the sand.
As the afternoon rolled on, the others in the group joined them on the beach to chat and the sun began to sink down towards the horizon. Rebecca had bought the makings of a barbeque with her and the men bravely went off in search of something that might sustain a flame for long enough to char a sausage.
“What do you do Anna?” asked Indra, who Anna had already decided was just a little too nosey for her liking. “I’m the Business Manager in a school.” Anna replied, anticipating the blank looks. “I don’t teach, I support the teaching with finance, personnel, premises management, that sort of thing. The vague looks of her female companions cleared but they went back to gossiping about goings-on in their hometown. Anna was used to this. Just because she loved her job, didn’t mean anyone else would be the least bit interested and they usually weren’t, probably because they didn’t understand. Anna didn’t care, she quite liked being enigmatic.
The hunter gatherers bustled back with their armloads of wood and kindling, all sporting some fabulous splinters, but pleased to have been able to provide for the meal. Rebecca set about lighting the fire and then finally allowed Anna to get it alight before the matches completely ran out. “Resourceful” said Barry proudly, jabbing his wife with a sandy thumb.
The evening sun sank beneath the sea as the barbeque flames licked at the meat. The sausages were edible but Anna was surprised to discover that the dentists were not cooks. The food arrived on her plate already in bite sized pieces as Neville and Indra had hacked it apart trying to ascertain whether it was cooked. As the warmth of the sun dissipated Anna was pleased she had bought her jumper. Living in the middle of UK, she was a practical clothes shopper, if the outfit didn’t go with a cardigan and wellies, it was unlikely she’d get much wear out of it. Even in Cornwall she’d come prepared for the mosquitoes, evening breeze and splinters, but Anna felt sorry as, eventually, the cold got too much for Janice. A small slim woman, like a mouse Anna marvelled, with a pretty but pointy face, short hair and wearing a light summer dress which was doing nothing to keep out the chill. “I’ll go back to the house” she eventually conceded.
“Are you coming back?” Anna didn’t think Elden sounded overly concerned. “No, I’m tired, all this sea air – you stay – I’ll have a bath.” Elden kissed her lightly on the forehead like she was eight years old and Anna grasped Barry’s big hand for reassurance, holding it tight as if to say, “please don’t ever treat me like a china doll.” Barry squeezed back, he knew what she was thinking.
They watched Janice clamber up the cliff and wave at the top, from the beach they could see her enter the house and turn on all the lights, upstairs and down. The building shone like a lighthouse and Anna wondered what the combined wattage was and how that effected the electricity bill, before reminding herself that it wasn’t her problem here.
An hour later, after much getting-to-know-each-other laughter, ably assisted by a couple of bottles of Cotes du Rhone that Anna had been given for helping to organise this years ‘French Exchange’, the evening ended and the group of friends doused the fire and headed back to the house. The lights were still ablaze, guiding them up the cliff towards the front door.
It was locked.
Anna had earlier tucked her key into the rucksack with the cheese rolls so opened the door to let everyone traipse in with sand falling off their clothes and shoes onto the hall carpet which, Anna observed, had been worn bare by the years of abrasion from inconsiderate beachcombers. The house was eerily still and everyone agreed the long day had taken its toll. “To bed!” declared Barry, lifting his wife into his arms and bounding up the stairs.”Goodnight all”, Anna caught the envious gaze of Colin and Anthony at this display of affection but they didn’t see Barry go into their room and dump her unceremoniously onto the bed. “Either I stop doing that or you cease with the school dinners already” Barry smirked, as he pretended to stretch out his back. “Now, where’s my toothbrush?”
Minutes later, the quiet night was shattered by a loud scream from downstairs, interrupting a fruitless search for his toilet bag, Barry and Anna raced downstairs. Elden stood in the kitchen over the body of his wife sprawled on the floor in a congealing pool of dark red blood. She had clearly been dead for quite sometime. Anna automatically went into first aid mode but the large kitchen knife sticking out from between her shoulder blades told Anna that there was little she was going to be able to do to help Janice. “Call 999” Anna hissed at Barry, as he reached for his mobile phone.
“I don’t understand, I came in here for a glass of water” Elden sobbed. “Can you help him? He’s going into shock” Anna looked pointedly at Neville who stood rooted to the spot. “Come on old chap, lets get you into the lounge” Robert took control and stiffly man-handled Elden away from the scene. Anna avoided Barry’s eyes. As a dentist, Anna had expected Neville to be more used to dealing with an emergency. Rebecca followed her husband out of the kitchen looking ashen-faced herself while Neville and Indra continued to make like statues, frozen in time. Colin and Anthony sat heavily onto the kitchen chairs as if their legs could no longer hold up their toned bodies, desperately wrapping their arms around each other, trying unsuccessfully to hold their world together.
In the distance, the wailing sirens drew closer, piercing the night with their harsh lights and sound, announcing the arrival of strangers to their holiday idyll. Anna sighed. This was going to take some explaining. Not just what she knew, but how she knew it.